Immortalization of human alveolar epithelial cells to investigate nanoparticle uptake

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2008 Nov;39(5):591-7. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2007-0334OC. Epub 2008 Jun 6.


Primary human alveolar type 2 (AT2) cells were immortalized by transduction with the catalytic subunit of telomerase and simian virus 40 large-tumor antigen. Characterization by immunochemical and morphologic methods demonstrated an AT1-like cell phenotype. Unlike primary AT2 cells, immortalized cells no longer expressed alkaline phosphatase, pro-surfactant protein C, and thyroid transcription factor-1, but expressed increased caveolin-1 and receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE). Live cell imaging using scanning ion conductance microscopy showed that the cuboidal primary AT2 cells were approximately 15 microm and enriched with surface microvilli, while the immortal AT1 cells were attenuated more than 40 microm, resembling these cells in situ. Transmission electron microscopy highlighted the attenuated morphology and showed endosomal vesicles in some immortal AT1 cells (but not primary AT2 cells) as found in situ. Particulate air pollution exacerbates cardiopulmonary disease. Interaction of ultrafine, nano-sized particles with the alveolar epithelium and/or translocation into the cardiovasculature may be a contributory factor. We hypothesized differential uptake of nanoparticles by AT1 and AT2 cells, depending on particle size and surface charge. Uptake of 50-nm and 1-microm fluorescent latex particles was investigated using confocal microscopy and scanning surface confocal microscopy of live cells. Fewer than 10% of primary AT2 cells internalized particles. In contrast, 75% immortal AT1 cells internalized negatively charged particles, while less than 55% of these cells internalized positively charged particles; charge, rather than size, mattered. The process was rapid: one-third of the total cell-associated negatively charged 50-nm particle fluorescence measured at 24 hours was internalized during the first hour. AT1 cells could be important in translocation of particles from the lung into the circulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Caveolin 1 / metabolism
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Nuclear Factor 1
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Caveolin 1
  • NKX2-1 protein, human
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Thyroid Nuclear Factor 1
  • Transcription Factors