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Cell Tissue Res. 2003 Jan;311(1):31-45. Epub 2002 Nov 12.

Differentiation of human alveolar epithelial cells in primary culture: morphological characterization and synthesis of caveolin-1 and surfactant protein-C.

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  • 1Department of Biopharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Technology, Saarland University, Saarbr├╝cken, Germany.


Human alveolar type II cells were isolated from lung tissue and cultured for several days. The morphology of cells was investigated at different time points postseeding and the synthesis of alveolar cell-type specific proteins was analyzed using different methods. The rationale of the study was to characterize a primary cell culture of human alveolar cells for the development of an in vitro model studying pulmonary drug delivery. In vitro test systems based on human cells are attracting increasing interest as important alternatives to animal-derived models because possible interspecies differences in alveolar cell biology and transport mechanisms cannot be excluded. In our study, both morphological characterization and marker protein synthesis of human alveolar cells in culture indicate the differentiation of isolated alveolar type II cells into epithelial monolayers consisting of alveolar type I-like and alveolar type II-like cells, which corresponds to the composition of the alveolar epithelium of the donor tissue. By using flow cytometry, immunofluorescence, immunoblotting and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we observed a shift in the synthesis of important marker proteins. Early cultures were characterized by low caveolin-1 and high Sp-C levels. In comparison, the protein biosynthesis of alveolar cells switched with time of culture to high caveolin-1 and low Sp-C levels. Based on the similarity between human alveolar epithelium and the development of our primary alveolar cell culture, we suggest that the culture may serve as a suitable model to study epithelial transport or cell biological processes in human alveolar cells.

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