Choosing the Right Differentiation Medium to Develop Mucociliary Phenotype of Primary Nasal Epithelial Cells In Vitro

Anja E Luengen*, Caroline Kniebs, Eva Miriam Buhl, Christian G Cornelissen, Thomas Schmitz-Rode, Stefan Jockenhoevel*, Anja Lena Thiebes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In vitro differentiation of airway epithelium is of interest for respiratory tissue engineering and studying airway diseases. Both applications benefit from the use of primary cells to maintain a mucociliated phenotype and thus physiological functionality. Complex differentiation procedures often lack standardization and reproducibility. To alleviate these shortfalls, we compared differentiation behavior of human nasal epithelial cells in four differentiation media. Cells were differentiated at the air-liquid interface (ALI) on collagen-coated inserts. Mucociliary differentiation status after five weeks was analyzed by electron microscopy, histology and immunohistochemistry. The amount of ciliation was estimated and growth factor concentrations were evaluated using ELISA. We found that retinoic-acid-supplemented mixture of DMEM and Airway Epithelial Cell Growth Medium gave most promising results to obtain ciliated and mucus producing nasal epithelium in vitro. We discovered the balance between retinoic acid (RA), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and fibroblast growth factor β (FGF-β) to be relevant for differentiation. We could show that low VEGF, EGF and FGF-β concentrations in medium correspond to absent ciliation in specific donors. Therefore, our results may in future facilitate donor selection and non-invasive monitoring of ALI cultures and by this contribute to improved standardization of epithelial in vitro culture.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6963
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020




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