The air-liquid interface and use of primary cell cultures are important to recapitulate the transcriptional profile of in vivo airway epithelia

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2011 Jan;300(1):L25-31. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00256.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 22.


Organotypic cultures of primary human airway epithelial cells have been used to investigate the morphology, ion and fluid transport, innate immunity, transcytosis, infection, inflammation, signaling, cilia, and repair functions of this complex tissue. However, we do not know how closely these cultures resemble the airway surface epithelium in vivo. In this study, we examined the genome-wide expression profile of tracheal and bronchial human airway epithelia in vivo and compared it with the expression profile of primary cultures of human airway epithelia grown at the air-liquid interface. For comparison, we also investigated the expression profile of Calu-3 cells grown at the air-liquid interface and primary cultures of human airway epithelia submerged in nutrient media. We found that the transcriptional profile of differentiated primary cultures grown at the air-liquid interface most closely resembles that of in vivo airway epithelia, suggesting that the use of primary cultures and the presence of an air-liquid interface are important to recapitulate airway epithelia biology. We describe a high level of similarity between cells of tracheal and bronchial origin within and between different human donors, which suggests a very robust expression profile that is specific to airway cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bronchi / cytology
  • Bronchi / physiology
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Culture Media
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Tissue Donors / statistics & numerical data
  • Trachea / cytology
  • Trachea / physiology
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Culture Media