Aquaporin-3 expression in human fetal airway epithelial progenitor cells

Stem Cells. 2005 Aug;23(7):992-1001. doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2004-0197.


Airway epithelium stem cells have not yet been prospectively identified, but it is generally assumed that both secretory and basal cells have the capacity to divide and differentiate. Previously, we developed a test for progenitor cells of the human airway epithelium, relying on the transplantation of fetal respiratory tissues into immunodeficient mice. In this study, we hypothesized that airway-repopulating epithelial progenitors can be marked with surface antigens, and we screened an array of such candidate markers, including lectin ligands, the CD44 and CD166 adhesion molecules, and the aquaporin-3 (AQP3) water channel. We observed that AQP3 is selectively expressed on the surface of basal cells, allowing the separation by flow cytometry of AQP3+ basal cells and AQP3- ciliated and secretory cells. Functional evaluation of sorted cells in vivo showed that AQP3+ cells can restore a normal pseudostratified, mucociliary epithelium as well as submucosal glands. AQP3- cells are also endowed with a similar potential, although faster engraftment suggests their inclusion of more committed progenitors. These results show that stem cell candidates in the human tracheo-bronchial mucosa can be positively selected with a novel marker but also, for the first time, that epithelial progenitors exist among both basal and suprabasal cell subsets within the human airway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activated-Leukocyte Cell Adhesion Molecule / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Aquaporin 3
  • Aquaporins / biosynthesis*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Separation
  • Cell Transplantation
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Receptors / biosynthesis
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lectins / metabolism
  • Ligands
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Trachea / embryology*


  • AQP3 protein, human
  • Activated-Leukocyte Cell Adhesion Molecule
  • Aqp3 protein, mouse
  • Aquaporins
  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • Lectins
  • Ligands
  • Aquaporin 3