Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease caused by mutations in the gene encoding the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), which results in impaired airway mucociliary clearance, inflammation, infection, and respiratory insufficiency. The development of new therapeutics for CF are limited by the lack of reliable preclinical models that recapitulate the structural, immunological, and bioelectrical features of human CF lungs.
We leveraged organ-on-a-chip technology to develop a microfluidic device lined by primary human CF bronchial epithelial cells grown under an air-liquid interface and interfaced with pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells (CF Airway Chip) exposed to fluid flow. The responses of CF and healthy Airway Chips were analyzed in the presence or absence of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) and the bacterial pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The CF Airway Chip faithfully recapitulated many features of the human CF airways, including enhanced mucus accumulation, increased cilia density, and a higher ciliary beating frequency compared to chips lined by healthy bronchial epithelial cells. The CF chips also secreted higher levels of IL-8, which was accompanied by enhanced PMN adhesion to the endothelium and transmigration into the airway compartment. In addition, CF Airway Chips provided a more favorable environment for Pseudomonas aeruginosa growth, which resulted in enhanced secretion of inflammatory cytokines and recruitment of PMNs to the airway.
The human CF Airway Chip may provide a valuable preclinical tool for pathophysiology studies as well as for drug testing and personalized medicine.

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