An investigation into E-cigarette cytotoxicity in-vitro using a novel 3D differentiated co-culture model of human airways

Toxicol In Vitro. 2018 Oct:52:255-264. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2018.06.020. Epub 2018 Jun 27.


Currently there is a lack of consensus on the possible adverse health effects of E-cigarettes (ECs). Important factors including cell model employed and exposure method determine the physiological relevance of EC studies. The present study aimed to evaluate EC cytotoxicity using a physiologically relevant in-vitro multicellular model of human airways. Human bronchial epithelial cells (CALU-3) and pulmonary fibroblasts (MRC-5) were co-cultured at air-liquid-interface for 11-14 days post which they were exposed to whole cigarette smoke (WCS) or EC vapour (ECV) at standard ISO-3308 regime for 7 m using a bespoke aerosol delivery system. ECV effects were further investigated at higher exposure times (1 h-6 h). Results showed that while WCS significantly reduced cell viability after 7 m, ECV decreased cell viability only at exposure times higher than 3 h. Furthermore, ECV caused elevated IL-6 and IL-8 production despite reduced cell viability. ECV exposure also produced a marked increase in oxidative stress. Finally, WCS but not ECV exposure induced caspase 3/7 activation, suggesting a caspase independent death of ECV exposed cells. Overall, our results indicate that prolonged ECV exposure (≥3 h) has a significant impact on pro-inflammatory mediators' production, oxidative stress and cell viability but not caspase 3/7 activity.

Keywords: CALU 3; Co-culture model; Cytotoxicity; E-cigarette; Human airways; In-vitro; Multi-cellular.

MeSH terms

  • Bronchi / cytology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lung / cytology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects