Culture with apically applied healthy or disease sputum alters the airway surface liquid proteome and ion transport across human bronchial epithelial cells

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2021 Dec 1;321(6):C954-C963. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00234.2021. Epub 2021 Oct 6.


Airway secretions contain many signaling molecules and peptides/proteins that are not found in airway surface liquid (ASL) generated by normal human bronchial epithelial cells (NHBEs) in vitro. These play a key role in innate defense and mediate communication between the epithelium, the immune cells, and the external environment. We investigated how culture of NHBE with apically applied secretions from healthy or diseased (cystic fibrosis, CF) lungs affected epithelial function with a view to providing better in vitro models of the in vivo environment. NHBEs from 6 to 8 different donors were cultured at air-liquid interface (ALI), with apically applied sputum from normal healthy donors (normal lung sputum; NLS) or CF donors (CFS) for 2-4 h, 48 h, or with sputum reapplied over 48 h. Proteomics analysis was carried out on the sputa and on the NHBE ASL before and after culture with sputa. Transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER), short circuit current (Isc), and changes to ASL height were measured. There were 71 proteins common to both sputa but not ASL. The protease:protease inhibitor balance was increased in CFS compared with NLS and ASL. Culture of NHBE with sputa for 48 h identified additional factors not present in NLS, CFS, or ASL alone. Culture with either NLS or CFS for 48 h increased cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR) activity, calcium-activated chloride channel (CaCC) activity, and changed ASL height. These data indicate that culture with healthy or disease sputum changes the proteomic profile of ASL and ion transport properties of NHBE and this may increase physiological relevance when using in vitro airway models.

Keywords: CFTR; epithelial cell; epithelium; ion transport; proteomics; sputum.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bronchi / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Cystic Fibrosis / metabolism*
  • Electric Impedance
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ion Transport
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proteome*
  • Proteomics*
  • Sputum / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Proteome

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.14791827