The reconstruction of extensive tracheal defects is still an unsolved challenge for thoracic surgery. Tissue engineering is a promising possibility to solve this problem through the generation of an autologous tracheal replacement from patients' own tissue. Therefore, this study investigated the potential of three different coculture systems, combining human respiratory epithelial cells and human chondrocytes. The coculture systems were analyzed by histological staining with alcian blue, immunohisto-chemical staining with the antibodies, 34betaE12 and CD44v6, and scanning electron microscopy. The first composite culture consisted of human respiratory epithelial cells seeded on human high-density chondrocyte pellets. For the second system, we used native articular cartilage chips as base for the respiratory epithelial cells. The third system consisted of a collagen membrane, seeded with respiratory epithelial cells and human chondrocytes onto different sides of the membrane, which achieved the most promising results. In combination with an air–liquid interface system and fibroblast-conditioned medium, an extended epithelial multilayer with differentiated epithelial cells could be generated. Our results suggest that at least three factors are necessary for the development towards a tracheal replacement: (1) a basal lamina equivalent, consisting of collagen fibers for cell–cell interaction and cell polarization, (2) extracellular factors of mesenchymal fibroblasts, and (3) the presence of an air–liquid interface system for proliferation and differentiation of the epithelial cells.
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Vol. 43 • No. 1