Lung epithelial cell lines in coculture with human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells: Development of an alveolo-capillary barrier in vitro

Maria Iris Hermanns, Ronald E. Unger, Kai Kehe, Kirsten Peters, Charles James Kirkpatrick

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232 Scopus citations


We have established a coculture system of human distal lung epithelial cells and human microvascular endothelial cells in order to study the cellular interactions of epithelium and endothelium at the alveolocapillary barrier in both pathogenesis and recovery from acute lung injury. The aim was to determine conditions for the development of functional cellular junctions and the formation of a tight epithelial barrier similar to that observed in vivo. The in vitro coculture system consisted of monolayers of human lung epithelial cell lines (A549 or NCl H441) and primary human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells (HPMEC) on opposite sides of a permeable filter membrane. A549 failed to show sufficient differentiation with respect to formation of a tight epithelial barrier with intact cell-cell junctions. Stimulated with dexamethasone, the cocultures of NCl H441 and HPMEC established contact-inhibited differentiated monolayers, with NCl H441 showing a continuous, circumferential immunostaining of the tight junctional protein, ZO-1 and the adherens junction protein, E-cadherin. The generation of a polarized epithelial cell monolayer with typical junctional structures was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. Dexamethasone treatment resulted in average transbilayer electrical resistance (TER) values of 500 Ω cm2 after 10-12 days of cocultivation and correlated with a reduced flux of the hydrophilic permeability marker, sodium-fluorescein. In addition, basolateral distribution of the proinflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor-alpha caused a significant reduction of TER-values after 24 h exposure. This decrease in TER could be re-established to control level by removal of the cytokine within 24 h. Thus, the coculture system of the NCl H441 with HPMEC should be a suitable in vitro model system to examine epithelial and endothelial interactions in the pathogenesis of acute lung injury, infectious lung diseases and toxic lung injury. In addition, it could be used to improve techniques of lung drug delivery that also requires a functional barrier.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)736-752
Number of pages17
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Mrs A Stieglitz, L Meyer and M Müller for their excellent assistance with the cell culture, the immunocytochemical and TEM studies, respectively. This study was supported by the BMVg Grant E/B41G/1G302/1A402.


  • Adherens junctions
  • Alveoli
  • Bilayer
  • Coculture
  • HTS 24-Transwell
  • Microvascular endothelium
  • Tight junctions
  • Type II pneumocyte


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