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Lab Invest. 2004 Jun;84(6):736-52.

Lung epithelial cell lines in coculture with human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells: development of an alveolo-capillary barrier in vitro.

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Institute of Pathology, Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany.


We have established a coculture system of human distal lung epithelial cells and human microvascular endothelial cells in order to study the cellular interactions of epithelium and endothelium at the alveolocapillary barrier in both pathogenesis and recovery from acute lung injury. The aim was to determine conditions for the development of functional cellular junctions and the formation of a tight epithelial barrier similar to that observed in vivo. The in vitro coculture system consisted of monolayers of human lung epithelial cell lines (A549 or NCI H441) and primary human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells (HPMEC) on opposite sides of a permeable filter membrane. A549 failed to show sufficient differentiation with respect to formation of a tight epithelial barrier with intact cell-cell junctions. Stimulated with dexamethasone, the cocultures of NCI H441 and HPMEC established contact-inhibited differentiated monolayers, with NCI H441 showing a continuous, circumferential immunostaining of the tight junctional protein, ZO-1 and the adherens junction protein, E-cadherin. The generation of a polarized epithelial cell monolayer with typical junctional structures was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. Dexamethasone treatment resulted in average transbilayer electrical resistance (TER) values of 500 Omega cm(2) after 10-12 days of cocultivation and correlated with a reduced flux of the hydrophilic permeability marker, sodium-fluorescein. In addition, basolateral distribution of the proinflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor-alpha caused a significant reduction of TER-values after 24 h exposure. This decrease in TER could be re-established to control level by removal of the cytokine within 24 h. Thus, the coculture system of the NCI H441 with HPMEC should be a suitable in vitro model system to examine epithelial and endothelial interactions in the pathogenesis of acute lung injury, infectious lung diseases and toxic lung injury. In addition, it could be used to improve techniques of lung drug delivery that also requires a functional barrier.

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