An impaired alveolar-capillary barrier in vitro: Effect of proinflammatory cytokines and consequences on nanocarrier interaction

Maria Iris Hermanns, Jennifer Kasper, Peter Dubruel, Christine Pohl, Chiara Uboldi, Vincent Vermeersch, Sabine Fuchs, Ronald E. Unger, C. James Kirkpatrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The alveolar region of the lung is an important target for drug and gene delivery approaches. Treatment with drugs is often necessary under pathophysiological conditions, in which there is acute inflammation of the target organ. Therefore, in vitro models of the alveolar-capillary barrier, which mimic inflammatory conditions in the alveolar region, would be useful to analyse and predict effects of novel drugs on healthy or inflamed tissues. The epithelial cell line H441 was cultivated with primary isolated human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells (HPMECs) or the endothelial cell line ISO-HAS-1 on opposite sides of a permeable filter support under physiological and inflammatory conditions. Both epithelial and endothelial cell types grew as polarized monolayers in bilayer coculture and were analysed in the presence and absence of the proinflammatory stimuli tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ). In addition, the nanocarrier polyethyleneimine (PEI) was chosen as a model compound to study cell uptake (Oregon Green (OG)-labelled PEI) and gene transfer (PEI-pDNA complex). Upon treatment with TNF-α and IFN-γ, both cocultures exhibited comparable effects on the trans-bilayer electrical resistance, the transport of sodium fluorescein and the increase in secondary cytokine release. Basolateral (endothelial side) exposure to TNF-α or simultaneous exposure to TNF-α and IFN-γ generated an alveolar-capillary barrier with inflammation-like characteristics, impaired barrier function and a local disruption of the continuous apical labelling of the tight junction plaque protein zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1). Although transfection rates of 8 per cent were obtained for H441 cells in non-polarized monocultures, apical-basolateral- differentiated (polarized) H441 in coculture could not be transfected. After basolateral cytokine exposure, uptake of fluorescently labelled PEI in polarized H441 was predominantly detected in those areas with a local disruption of ZO-1 expression. Accordingly, transfected cells were only sparsely found in coculture after basolateral costimulation with TNF-α and IFN-γ. We designed a coculture model that mimics both the structural architecture of the alveolar-capillary barrier and inflammatory mechanisms with consequences on barrier characteristics, cytokine production and nanoparticle interaction. Our model will be suitable to systematically study adsorption, uptake and trafficking of newly synthesized nanosized carriers under different physiological conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S41-S54
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - 6 Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Alveolar-capillary barrier
  • Bilayer
  • Lung injury
  • Nanocarrier interaction
  • Tight junctions


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