Estimating the oxygen consumption rates (OCRs) of mammalian cells in hypoxic environments is essential for designing and developing a three-dimensional (3-D) cell culture system. However, OCR measurements under hypoxic conditions are infrequently reported in the literature. Here, we developed a system for measuring OCRs at low oxygen levels. The system injects nitrogen gas into the environment and measures the oxygen concentration by an optical oxygen microsensor that consumes no oxygen. The developed system was applied to HepG2 cells in static culture. Specifically, we measured the spatial profiles of the local dissolved oxygen concentration in the medium, then estimated the OCRs of the cells. The OCRs, and also the pericellular oxygen concentrations, decreased nonlinearly as the oxygen partial pressure in the environment decreased from 19% to 1%. The OCRs also depended on the culture period and the matrix used for coating the dish surface. Using this system, we can precisely estimate the OCRs of various cell types under environments that mimic 3-D culture conditions, contributing crucial data for an efficient 3-D culture system design.
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