A triple cell co-culture model was recently established by the authors, consisting of either A549 or 16HBE14o- epithelial cells, human blood monocyte-derived macrophages and dendritic cells, which offers the possibility to study the interaction of xenobiotics with those cells. The 16HBE14o- containing co-culture model mimics the airway epithelial barrier, whereas the A549 co-cultures mimic the alveolar type II-like epithelial barrier. The goal of the present work was to establish a new triple cell co-culture model composed of primary alveolar type I-like cells isolated from human lung biopsies (hAEpC) representing a more realistic alveolar epithelial barrier wall, since type I epithelial cells cover >93% of the alveolar surface. Monocultures of A549 and 16HBE14o- were morphologically and functionally compared with the hAEpC using laser scanning microscopy, as well as transmission electron microscopy, and by determining the epithelial integrity. The triple cell co-cultures were characterized using the same methods. It could be shown that the epithelial integrity of hAEpC (mean ± SD, 1180 ± 188 Ω cm(2)) was higher than in A549 (172 ± 59 Ω cm(2)) but similar to 16HBE14o- cells (1469 ± 156 Ω cm(2)). The triple cell co-culture model with hAEpC (1113 ± 30 Ω cm(2)) showed the highest integrity compared to the ones with A549 (93 ± 14 Ω cm(2)) and 16HBE14o- (558 ± 267 Ω cm(2)). The tight junction protein zonula occludens-1 in hAEpC and 16HBE14o- were more regularly expressed but not in A549. The epithelial alveolar model with hAEpC combined with two immune cells (i.e. macrophages and dendritic cells) will offer a novel and more realistic cell co-culture system to study possible cell interactions of inhaled xenobiotics and their toxic potential on the human alveolar type I epithelial wall.
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