Background: Current in vitro human lung epithelial cell models derived from adult tissues may not accurately represent all attributes that define homeostatic and disease mechanisms relevant to the pediatric lung.
Methods: We report methods for growing and differentiating primary Pediatric Human Lung Epithelial (PHLE) cells from organ donor infant lung tissues. We use immunohistochemistry, flow cytometry, quantitative RT-PCR, and single cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) analysis to characterize the cellular and transcriptional heterogeneity of PHLE cells.
Results: PHLE cells can be expanded in culture up to passage 6, with a doubling time of ~4 days, and retain attributes of highly enriched epithelial cells. PHLE cells can form resistant monolayers, and undergo differentiation when placed at air-liquid interface. When grown at Air-Liquid Interface (ALI), PHLE cells expressed markers of airway epithelial cell lineages. scRNAseq suggests the cultures contained 4 main sub-phenotypes defined by expression of FOXJ1, KRT5, MUC5B, and SFTPB. These cells are available to the research community through the Developing Lung Molecular Atlas Program Human Tissue Core.
Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that PHLE cells provide a novel in vitro human cell model that represents the pediatric airway epithelium, which can be used to study perinatal developmental and pediatric disease mechanisms.