Open Access Research

Diesel exhaust particles modulate the tight junction protein occludin in lung cells in vitro

Andrea D Lehmann1*, Fabian Blank2, Oliver Baum1, Peter Gehr1 and Barbara M Rothen-Rutishauser1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

2 Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2009, 6:26  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-6-26

Published: 8 October 2009



Using an in vitro triple cell co-culture model consisting of human epithelial cells (16HBE14o-), monocyte-derived macrophages and dendritic cells, it was recently demonstrated that macrophages and dendritic cells create a transepithelial network between the epithelial cells to capture antigens without disrupting the epithelial tightness. The expression of the different tight junction proteins in macrophages and dendritic cells, and the formation of tight junction-like structures with epithelial cells has been demonstrated. Immunofluorescent methods combined with laser scanning microscopy and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction were used to investigate if exposure to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) (0.5, 5, 50, 125 μg/ml), for 24 h, can modulate the expression of the tight junction mRNA/protein of occludin, in all three cell types.


Only the highest dose of DEP (125 μg/ml) seemed to reduce the occludin mRNA in the cells of the defence system however not in epithelial cells, although the occludin arrangement in the latter cell type was disrupted. The transepithelial electrical resistance was reduced in epithelial cell mono-cultures but not in the triple cell co-cultures, following exposure to high DEP concentration. Cytotoxicity was not found, in either epithelial mono-cultures nor in triple cell co-cultures, after exposure to the different DEP concentrations.


We concluded that high concentrations of DEP (125 μg/ml) can modulate the tight junction occludin mRNA in the cells of the defence system and that those cells play an important role maintaining the epithelial integrity following exposure to particulate antigens in lung cells.