Background: Following injury to the airway epithelium, rapid regeneration of a functional epithelium is necessary in order to restore the epithelial barrier integrity. In the perspective of airway gene/cell therapy, we analyzed the capacity of human airway epithelial cells cultured as three-dimensional (3-D) spheroid structures to be efficiently transduced on long term by a pseudotyped lentiviral vector. The capacity of the 3-D spheroid structures to repopulate a denuded tracheal basement membrane and regenerate a well-differentiated airway epithelium was also analyzed.
Methods: An HIV-1-derived VSV-G pseudotyped lentiviral vector encoding the enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) was used. Airway epithelial cells were isolated from mature human fetal tracheas and airway xenografts, cultured as 3-D spheroid structures, and either transduced at multiplicity of infection (MOI) 10 and 100 or assayed in an ex vivo and in vivo model to evaluate their regeneration capacity.
Results: An in vivo repopulation assay in SCID-hu mice with transduced isolated fetal airway epithelial cells shows that lentiviral transduction does not alter the airway reconstitution. Transduction of the 3-D spheroid structures shows that 12% of cells were eGFP-positive for up to 80 days. In ex vivo and in vivo assays (NUDE-hu mice), the 3-D spheroid structures are able to repopulate denuded basement membrane and reconstitute a well-differentiated human airway surface epithelium.
Conclusions: The efficient and long-term lentiviral transduction of 3-D spheroid structures together with their capacity to regenerate a well-differentiated mucociliary epithelium demonstrate the potential relevance of these 3-D structures in human airway gene/cell therapy.