In vitro model for studying esophageal epithelial differentiation and allergic inflammatory responses identifies keratin involvement in eosinophilic esophagitis

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 3;10(6):e0127755. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127755. eCollection 2015.


Epithelial differentiation is an essential physiological process that imparts mechanical strength and barrier function to squamous epithelia. Perturbation of this process can give rise to numerous human diseases, such as atopic dermatitis, in which antigenic stimuli can penetrate the weakened epithelial barrier to initiate the allergic inflammatory cascade. We recently described a simplified air-liquid interface (ALI) culture system that facilitates the study of differentiated squamous epithelia in vitro. Herein, we use RNA sequencing to define the genome-wide transcriptional changes that occur within the ALI system during epithelial differentiation and in response to allergic inflammation. We identified 2,191 and 781 genes that were significantly altered upon epithelial differentiation or dysregulated in the presence of interleukin 13 (IL-13), respectively. Notably, 286 genes that were modified by IL-13 in the ALI system overlapped with the gene signature present within the inflamed esophageal tissue from patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an allergic inflammatory disorder of the esophagus that is characterized by elevated IL-13 levels, altered epithelial differentiation, and pro-inflammatory gene expression. Pathway analysis of these overlapping genes indicated enrichment in keratin genes; for example, the gene encoding keratin 78, an uncharacterized type II keratin, was upregulated during epithelial differentiation (45-fold) yet downregulated in response to IL-13 and in inflamed esophageal tissue from patients. Thus, our findings delineate an in vitro experimental system that models epithelial differentiation that is dynamically regulated by IL-13. Using this system and analyses of patient tissues, we identify an altered expression profile of novel keratin differentiation markers in response to IL-13 and disease activity, substantiating the potential of this combined approach to identify relevant molecular processes that contribute to human allergic inflammatory disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology*
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Eosinophilic Esophagitis / genetics
  • Eosinophilic Esophagitis / immunology*
  • Eosinophilic Esophagitis / pathology
  • Esophagus / immunology*
  • Esophagus / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / genetics
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Hypersensitivity / pathology
  • Keratins / genetics
  • Keratins / immunology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*


  • Keratins