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Stem Cells. 2007 Jan;25(1):139-48. Epub 2006 Sep 28.

Basal cells of the human adult airway surface epithelium retain transit-amplifying cell properties.

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Institut National de Santé et de Recherche Médicale Unité 514, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Maison Blanche, Reims, France.


In numerous airway diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, the epithelium is severely damaged and must regenerate to restore its defense functions. Although the human airway epithelial stem cells have not been identified yet, we have suggested recently that epithelial stem/progenitor cells exist among both human fetal basal and suprabasal cell subsets in the tracheal epithelium. In this study, we analyzed the capacity of human adult basal cells isolated from human adult airway tissues to restore a well-differentiated and functional airway epithelium. To this end, we used the human-specific basal cell markers tetraspanin CD151 and tissue factor (TF) to separate positive basal cells from negative columnar cells with a FACSAria cell sorter. Sorted epithelial cells were seeded into epithelium-denuded rat tracheae that were grafted subcutaneously in nude mice and on collagen-coated porous membranes, where they were grown at the air-liquid interface. Sorted basal and columnar populations were also analyzed for their telomerase activity, a specific transit-amplifying cell marker, by the telomeric repeat amplification protocol assay. After cell sorting, the pure and viable CD151/TF-positive basal cell population proliferated on plastic and adhered on epithelium-denuded rat tracheae, as well as on collagen-coated porous membranes, where it was able to restore a fully differentiated mucociliary and functional airway epithelium, whereas viable columnar negative cells did not. Telomerase activity was detected in the CD151/TF-positive basal cell population, but not in CD151/TF-negative columnar cells. These results demonstrate that human adult basal cells are at least airway surface transit-amplifying epithelial cells.

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