Three-dimensional (3D) tissuelike assemblies (TLAs) of human bronchoepithelial (HBE) cells have been developed for use in in vitro research on infection of humans by respiratory viruses. The 2D monolayer HBE cell cultures heretofore used in such research lack the complex cell structures and interactions characteristic of in vivo tissues and, consequently, do not adequately emulate the infection dynamics of in-vivo microbial adhesion and invasion. In contrast, the 3D HBE TLAs are characterized by more-realistic reproductions of the geometrical and functional complexity, differentiation of cells, cell-to-cell interactions, and cell-to-matrix interactions characteristic of human respiratory epithelia. Hence, the 3D HBE TLAs are expected to make it possible to perform at least some of the research in vitro under more-realistic conditions, without need to infect human subjects.

These Virus Titers indicate rapid growth of virus populations during the first few days.
The TLAs are grown on collagen-coated cyclodextran microbeads under controlled conditions in a nutrient liquid in the simulated microgravitational environment of a bioreactor of the rotating-wall-vessel type. Primary human mesenchymal bronchial-tracheal cells are used as a foundation matrix, while adult human bronchial epithelial immortalized cells are used as the overlying component. The beads become coated with cells, and cells on adjacent beads coalesce into 3D masses. The resulting TLAs have been found to share significant characteristics with in vivo human respiratory epithelia including polarization, tight junctions, desmosomes, and microvilli. The differentiation of the cells in these TLAs into tissues functionally similar to in vivo tissues is confirmed by the presence of tissuelike differentiation marker compounds, including villin, keratins, and specific lung epithelium marker compounds, and by the production of tissue mucin.

In a series of initial infection tests, TLA cultures were inoculated with human respiratory syncytial viruses and parainfluenza type 3 viruses. Infection was confirmed by photomicrographs that showed signs of damage by viruses and virus titers (see figure) that indicated large increases in the populations of viruses during the days following inoculation.

This work was done by Thomas J. Goodwin of Johnson Space Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to

the Patent Counsel
Johnson Space Center
(281) 483-0837.

Refer to MSC-24164-1.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Tissuelike 3D Assemblies of Human Broncho-Epithelial Cells

(reference MSC-24164-1) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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