An ex vivo model of severe asthma using reconstituted human bronchial epithelium

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 May;129(5):1259-1266.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.01.073. Epub 2012 Mar 10.


Background: Structural changes to the airways are features of severe asthma. The bronchial epithelium facilitates this remodeling process. Learning about the changes that develop in the airway epithelium could improve our understanding of asthma pathogenesis and lead to new therapeutic approaches.

Objective: We sought to determine the feasibility and relevance of air-liquid interface cultures of bronchial epithelium derived from endobronchial biopsy specimens of patients with different severities of asthma for studying the airway epithelium.

Methods: Human bronchial epithelial cells derived from endobronchial biopsy specimens of patients with mild and severe asthma were maintained in culture for 21 days in an air-liquid interface to reproduce a fully differentiated airway epithelium. Initially, features of remodeling that included epithelial and subepithelial layers, as well as mucus production, were assessed in paraffin-embedded endobronchial biopsy specimens to evaluate morphologic characteristics of asthmatic patients' epithelia. Ex vivo differentiated epithelia were then analyzed for morphology and function based on ultrastructural analysis, IL-8 release, lipoxin A(4) generation, mucin production, and lipoxygenase gene expression.

Results: Morphologic and inflammatory imbalances initially observed in endobronchial biopsy specimens obtained from patients with severe or mild asthma persisted in the air-liquid interface reconstituted epithelium throughout the differentiation process to 21 days. Epithelium from patients with severe asthma produced greater levels of mucin, released more IL-8, and produced lower levels of lipoxin A(4) than that from patients with mild asthma. Expression of 15-lipoxygenase 2 was increased in epithelium from patients with severe asthma, whereas expression levels of MUC5AC, MUC5B, 5-lipoxygenase, and 15-lipoxygeanse 1 were similar to those of patients with mild asthma.

Conclusion: Ex vivo cultures of fully differentiated bronchial epithelium from endobronchial biopsy specimens maintain inherent phenotypic differences specifically related to the severity of asthma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Airway Remodeling*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchi / pathology*
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Progression
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / genetics
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Lipoxins / genetics
  • Lipoxins / metabolism
  • Lipoxygenase / genetics
  • Lipoxygenase / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Respiratory Mucosa / immunology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / pathology*
  • Young Adult


  • Interleukin-8
  • Lipoxins
  • Mucins
  • lipoxin A4
  • Lipoxygenase