Background: Bronchial epithelium plays a key role in orchestrating innate and adaptive immunity. The fate of ex vivo airway epithelial cultures growing at the air liquid interface (ALI) derived from human endobronchial biopsies or brushings is not easy to predict. Calibrating and differentiating these cells is a long and expensive process requiring rigorous expertise. Pinpointing factors associated with ALI culture success would help researchers gain further insight into epithelial progenitor behavior.
Methods: A successful ALI culture was defined as one in which a pseudostratified epithelium has formed after 28 days in the presence of all differentiated epithelial cell types. A 4-year prospective bi-center study was conducted with adult subjects enrolled in different approved research protocols.
Results: 463 consecutive endobronchial biopsies were obtained from normal healthy volunteers, healthy smokers, asthmatic patients and smokers with COPD. All demographic variables, the different fiber optic centers and culture operators, numbers of endo-bronchial biopsies and the presence of ciliated cells were carefully recorded. Univariate and multivariate models were developed. A stepwise procedure was used to select the final logistic regression model. ALI culture success was independently associated with the presence of living ciliated cells within the initial biopsy (OR = 2.18 [1.50-3.16], p < 0.001).
Conclusion: This finding highlights the properties of the cells derived from the epithelium dedifferentiation process. The preferential selection of samples with ciliated beating cells would probably save time and money. It is still unknown whether successful ALI culture is related to indicators of general cell viability or a purported stem cell state specifically associated with ciliated beating cells.