Epithelial 3D-spheroids as a tool to study air pollutant-induced lung pathology

Hoeke A. Baarsma*, Christina H.T.J. Van der Veen, Danique Lobee, Nienke Mones, Emily Oosterhout, Isabella Cattani-Cavalieri, Martina Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Cigarette smoke (CS) and air pollutants (AP) activate pathological processes in bronchial epithelial cells resulting in lung function decline which severely impacts human health. Knowledge about the molecular mechanism(s) by which CS and AP induce pathology is limited. Our previous studies in 2D cultures of human bronchial epithelial (BEAS-2B) cells showed that CS exposure activates transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) release and signaling. Furthermore, CS exposure reduced the expression of E-cadherin, which was prevented by applying a TGF-β1 neutralizing antibody. Exposure of BEAS-2B cells cultured in 2D to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) increased TGF-β1 protein expression and reduced the expression of epithelial cell markers, whereas mesenchymal markers are upregulated. Conventional 2D cell culture may, however, not fully reflect the physiology of bronchial epithelial cells in vivo. To simulate the in vivo situation more closely we cultured the bronchial epithelial cells in a 3D environment in the current study. Treatment of epithelial spheroids with TGF-β resulted in reduced E-cadherin and increased collagen I expression, indicating the activation of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Similarly, exposure of spheroids to DEP induced and EMT-like phenotype. Collectively, our data indicate AP induces an EMT-like phenotype of BEAS-2B cells in 3D spheroid cultures. This opens new avenues for drug development for the treatment of lung diseases induced by AP. The 3D spheroid cell culture is a novel, innovative and physiologically relevant model for culturing a variety of cells. It is a versatile tool for both high-throughput studies and for identifying molecular mechanisms involved in bronchial epithelial cell (patho)physiology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-190
Number of pages6
JournalSLAS discovery : advancing life sciences R & D
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1-Apr-2022


  • 3D cell culture
  • Bronchial epithelial cells
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Cigarette smoke
  • COPD
  • DEP
  • Diesel exhaust particles
  • EMT
  • Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition
  • Lung, air pollutants
  • Spheroids
  • TGF-beta
  • Transforming growth factor

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