A Review of In Vitro Modelling Approaches to the Identification and Modulation of Squamous Metaplasia in the Human Tracheobronchial Epithelium
Alison C. Gray, Julie D. McLeod and Richard H. Clothier
Squamous metaplasia in the tracheobronchial epithelium (TBE) involves the replacement of the normal pseudostratified mucociliary epithelium with a stratified squamous epithelium. Squamous metaplasia is considered to be an adaptive response that protects the lumen from the effects of inhaled airborne pollutants, but which might also feature as a pre-neoplastic lesion preceding squamous cell carcinoma. With the exception of transglutaminase I, involucrin, and cytokeratins 5, 6 and 13, few markers that contribute to the squamous phenotype have been identified in human TBE that can be used in diagnosis or to monitor its development in laboratory investigations, and current models are inadequate to provide statistically meaningful data. Therefore, new predictive markers have been identified, and new techniques established, in epithelial in vitro models capable of expressing squamous characteristics, which will be used to identify hazardous exposures and elucidate the mechanisms by which they induce their effects. A protocol for the quantitative detection of transglutaminase activity has been standardised in keratinocytes, based on the enzymatic incorporation of fluorescein–cadaverine (FC) into bis(γ-glutamyl) polyamine cross-links. The specificity of this compound as a transglutaminase substrate was demonstrated by using a range of competitive transglutaminase inhibitors, and by modulation of the squamous pathway. FC incorporation was localised to the cell membrane of terminally differentiating cells, and was not visible in basal, proliferating cells. High calcium-containing medium, nicotine and cigarette smoke condensates (CSC) induced an increase in FC incorporation, providing evidence of their role in enhancing the squamous pathway. Analysis by flow cytometry was used to provide a quantitative assessment of a range of optimised squamous differentiation markers, identified in normal human bronchial epithelia and in a bronchial cell line. Transglutaminase I was induced in a time-dependent manner, in post-confluent cells induced to differentiate down the squamous pathway, whereas involucrin was ubiquitously expressed and the levels of cytokeratins 5, 6 and 18 were reduced. The response of these and other differentiation markers to squamous-inducing conditions is being explored.