Development of a multicellular co-culture model of normal and cystic fibrosis human airways in vitro

  • Anne Bielemeier

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common lethal inherited disease among Caucasians and arises due to mutations in a chloride channel, called cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator. A hallmark of this disease is the chronic bacterial infection of the airways, which is usually, associated with pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, S. aureus and recently becoming more prominent, B. cepacia. The excessive inflammatory response, which leads to irreversible lung damage, will in the long term lead to mortality of the patient at around the age of 40 years.
Understanding the pathogenesis of CF currently relies on animal models, such as those employing genetically-modified mice, and on single cell culture models, which are grown either as polarised or non-polarised epithelium in vitro. Whilst these approaches partially enable the study of disease progression in CF, both types of models have inherent limitations.
The overall aim of this thesis was to establish a multicellular co-culture model of normal and CF human airways in vitro, which helps to partially overcome these limitations and permits analysis of cell-to-cell communication in the airways. These models could then be used to examine the co-ordinated response of the airways to infection with relevant pathogens in order to validate this approach over animals/single cell models. Therefore epithelial cell lines of non-CF and CF background were employed in a co-culture model together with human pulmonary fibroblasts.
Co-cultures were grown on collagen-coated permeable supports at air-liquid interface to promote epithelial cell differentiation. The models were characterised and essential features for investigating CF infections and inflammatory responses were investigated and analysed. A pseudostratified like epithelial cell layer was established at air liquid interface (ALI) of mono-and co-cultures and cell layer integrity was verified by tight junction (TJ) staining and transepithelial resistance measurements (TER). Mono- and co-cultures were also found to secrete the airway mucin MUC5AC. Influence of bacterial infections was found to be most challenging when intact S. aureus, B. cepacia and P. aeruginosa were used. CF mono- and co-cultures were found to mimic the hyperinflammatory state found in CF, which was confirmed by analysing IL-8 secretions of these models.
These co-culture models will help to elucidate the role fibroblasts play in the inflammatory response to bacteria and will provide a useful testing platform to further investigate the dysregulated airway responses seen in CF.
Date of Award24 Feb 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLindsay J Marshall (Supervisor)


  • cystic fibrosis
  • in vitro
  • co-culture
  • air-liquid interface
  • human pulmonary fibroblasts

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