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PLoS One. 2018 Dec 27;13(12):e0209652. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209652. eCollection 2018.

Transcriptomic and proteomic host response to Aspergillus fumigatus conidia in an air-liquid interface model of human bronchial epithelium.

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Experimental Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, University of British Columbia and St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, Canada.
Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada.
Department of Medicine, Division of Respiratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Prevention of Organ Failure (PROOF) Centre of Excellence, Vancouver, Canada.


Aspergillus fumigatus (A. fumigatus) is a wide-spread fungus that is a potent allergen in hypersensitive individuals but also an opportunistic pathogen in immunocompromised patients. It reproduces asexually by releasing airborne conidiospores (conidia). Upon inhalation, fungal conidia are capable of reaching the airway epithelial cells (AECs) in bronchial and alveolar tissues. Previous studies have predominantly used submerged monolayer cultures for studying this host-pathogen interaction; however, these cultures do not recapitulate the mucocililary differentiation phenotype of the in vivo epithelium in the respiratory tract. Thus, the aim of this study was to use well-differentiated primary human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs) grown at the air-liquid interface (ALI) to determine their transcriptomic and proteomic responses following interaction with A. fumigatus conidia. We visualized conidial interaction with HBECs using confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), and applied NanoString nCounter and shotgun proteomics to assess gene expression changes in the human cells upon interaction with A. fumigatus conidia. Western blot analysis was used to assess the expression of top three differentially expressed proteins, CALR, SET and NUCB2. CLSM showed that, unlike submerged monolayer cultures, well-differentiated ALI cultures of primary HBECs were estimated to internalize less than 1% of bound conidia. Nevertheless, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses revealed numerous differentially expressed host genes; these were enriched for pathways including apoptosis/autophagy, translation, unfolded protein response and cell cycle (up-regulated); complement and coagulation pathways, iron homeostasis, nonsense mediated decay and rRNA binding (down-regulated). CALR and SET were confirmed to be up-regulated in ALI cultures of primary HBECs upon exposure to A. fumigatus via western blot analysis. Therefore, using transcriptomics and proteomics approaches, ALI models recapitulating the bronchial epithelial barrier in the conductive zone of the respiratory tract can provide novel insights to the molecular response of bronchial epithelial cells upon exposure to A. fumigatus conidia.

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