Preparation of Cilia from Human Airway Epithelial Cells
For many years, the biochemical analysis of cilia, and flagella has focused primarily on organisms that are easy to grow and maintain in the laboratory and from which axonemal structures can be isolated in large quantities with a high degree of purity. For example, the isolation of flagella from Chlamydomonas in response to pH shock was described as early as 1972 (Witman et al., 1972) and cilia were isolated from Tetrahymena using dibucaine in 1974 (Thompson et al., 1974). While studies of these and other organisms have provided a wealth of valuable information concerning the structure and function of these fascinating axonemal structures, it is clearly important to also investigate the structure, function, and regulation of mammalian, especially human, cilia and flagella. While the axoneme of mammalian sperm has been isolated by a number of techniques (e.g., San Agustin and Witman, 1995), only a few reports detail isolations of mammalian cilia from the airway. This probably reflects in part the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities of suitable starting material and the inherent difficulties encountered when working with whole tissues.
In the last several years, the techniques used for culturing airway epithelial cells from both animal and human tissue have improved significantly. When cultured at an air/liquid interface on a collagen matrix and provided with suitable media, these cells have been shown to undergo ciliogenesis in vitro. In addition, human cells can be expanded for one or two passages and maintain their ability to differentiate, thus increasing the number of ciliated cells obtained. By culturing human airway epithelial cells under these conditions and modifying a technique originally described by Hastie et al.(1986) for isolating cilia from porcine trachea, it is possible to routinely produce highly enriched preparations of human ciliary axonemes. Although these preparations are not completely free of contamination by other cellular structures, they are suitable for many biochemical studies (Zhang et al., 2002; Reed et al., 2000; Ostrowski et al., 2002; Kultgen et al., 2002). Because this procedure utilizes a detergent, most of the ciliary membranes and soluble proteins are removed during the isolation, and the recovered material consists primarily of ciliary axonemes and their attached structures (dynein arms, radial spokes, etc.). Modifications of the procedure have been described that allow for at least partial recovery of ciliary membranes (Hastie et al., 1990; Salathe et al., 1993) from in vivo samples; these have not yet been tested extensively in the in vitro model. It should also be emphasized that the starting material for this procedure is well-differentiated, heavily ciliated airway cultures (Fig. 1A) grown under the conditions described in detail by Bernacki et al. (1999) and Randell et al. (2001) (and references therein). If the cultures are not completely confluent and heavily ciliated, the resulting preparation often contains a significant amount of cellular debris. The use of a nonionic detergent in the presence of calcium causes the cilia to be removed from the cell at a point just above the apical membrane, leaving the basal bodies intact (Figs. 1B and 1C).
II. REAGENTS AND SOLUTIONS
Protease inhibitor cocktail (P8340), dithiothreitol (DTT, D-9779), and Triton X-100 (T-8787) are from Sigma. β-Mercaptoethanol (0482) is from Amresco. The protease inhibitor cocktail is thawed upon arrival and frozen in small aliquots (100-200 µl). A 10% solution of Triton X-100 is made in sterile distilled water and stored in the refrigerator for no longer than 1 month. DTT is conveniently frozen in small aliquots at 100mM. All other chemicals are standard laboratory reagents and can be obtained from most laboratory suppliers.
As noted earlier, this procedure starts with heavily ciliated cultures of human airway epithelial cells. Cilia can be isolated from four 30-mm Millicell-CM culture inserts (PICM03050; Millipore) at one time. The inserts are first transferred to a six-well plate for ease of manipulation. Once started, the procedure should be carried out quickly.
This work was funded in part by NIH Grant HL63103 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The author thanks Dr. Scott Randell and the members of the Cell and Tissue Core Facility for helpful discussions and providing the human airway epithelial cells, Kim Burns and the members of the Histology Core Facility for providing electron microscopy services, Kerri Kendrick for preparing the illustrations, and Dr. William Reed for helpful suggestions concerning the cilia isolation protocol.
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