Do airway epithelium air-liquid cultures represent the in vivo airway epithelium transcriptome?

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2011 Apr;44(4):465-73. doi: 10.1165/rcmb.2009-0453OC. Epub 2010 Jun 4.


Human airway epithelial cells cultured in vitro at the air-liquid interface (ALI) form a pseudostratified epithelium that forms tight junctions and cilia, and produces mucin. These cells are widely used in models of differentiation, injury, and repair. To assess how closely the transcriptome of ALI epithelium matches that of in vivo airway epithelial cells, we used microarrays to compare the transcriptome of human large airway epithelial cells cultured at the ALI with the transcriptome of large airway epithelium obtained via bronchoscopy and brushing. Gene expression profiling showed that global gene expression correlated well between ALI cells and brushed cells, but with some differences. Gene expression patterns mirrored differences in proportions of cell types (ALIs have higher percentages of basal cells, whereas brushed cells have higher percentages of ciliated cells), that is, ALI cells expressed higher levels of basal cell-related genes, and brushed cells expressed higher levels of cilia-related genes. Pathway analysis showed that ALI cells had increased expression of cell cycle and proliferation genes, whereas brushed cells had increased expression of cytoskeletal organization and humoral immune response genes. Overall, ALI cells provide a good representation of the in vivo airway epithelial transcriptome, but for some biologic questions, the differences between in vitro and in vivo environments need to be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air*
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cilia / genetics
  • Cytoskeleton / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Humoral / genetics
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Tissue Culture Techniques*
  • Young Adult