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J Cell Physiol. 1991 Apr;147(1):138-48.

Growth and differentiation of primary tracheal epithelial cells in culture: regulation by extracellular calcium.

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Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis 95616.


Growth and differentiation of primary monkey tracheal epithelial (MTE) cells maintained on collagen gel substrata were studied in a defined serum-free culture medium containing 0.03 to 3.0 mM extracellular calcium. Cell attachment efficiency (40-60%) was not altered by different calcium levels. Growth of primary MTE cells on collagen gel substrata, which was vitamin A dependent, was enhanced 50% in the medium supplemented with high calcium (greater than 0.3 mM). High calcium medium also increased cell-cell interactions, formation of desmosomes, and multi-cell layering. The relative content of mucous cells, which were identified by a mucin-specific monoclonal antibody and the presence of mucus-secreting granules at the ultrastructural level, was greater in the high-calcium medium. Furthermore, the secretion of mucin into the medium, determined either by an ELISA or by the incorporation of 3H-glucosamine into mucous glycoprotein fractions, was also increased more than 5-fold in media containing high calcium content (greater than 0.6 mM). In contrast, MTE cells cultured in low calcium medium (less than 0.15 mM) were squamous-like with prominent tonofilaments, and their secretory product was mainly hyaluronate. These results demonstrate that media containing a high calcium content promote conducting airway epithelium to express mucous cell differentiation, while media with low calcium content promote squamous cell differentiation.

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