Human urinary disorders are generally studied in rodent models due to limitations of functional in vitro culture models of primary human urothelial cells (HUCs). Current HUC culture models are often derived from immortalized cancer cell lines, which likely have functional characteristics differ from healthy human urothelium. Here, we described a simple explant culture technique to generate HUCs and assessed their in vitro functions. Using transmission electron microscopy, we assessed morphology and heterogeneity of the generated HUCs and characterized their intercellular membrane structural proteins relative to ex vivo urothelium tissue. We demonstrated that our cultured HUCs are free of fibroblasts. They are also heterogeneous, containing cells characteristic of both immature basal cells and mature superficial urothelial cells. The cultured HUCs expressed muscarinic receptors (MR1 and MR2), carnitine acetyltransferase (CarAT), immunoregulatory cytokines IL7, IL15, and IL23, as well as the chemokine CCL20. HUCs also expressed epithelial cell-specific molecules essential for forming intercellular structures that maintain the functional capacity to form the physiological barrier of the human bladder urothelium. A subset of HUCs, identified by the high expression of CD44, expressed the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) along with its co-receptor CD14. We demonstrated that HUCs express, at the mRNA level, both forms of the IL22 receptor, the membrane-associated (IL22RA1) and the secreted soluble (IL22RA2) forms; in turn, IL22 inhibited expression of MR1 and induced expression of CarAT and two antimicrobial peptides (S100A9 and lipocalin-2). While the cellular sources of IL22 have yet to be identified, the HUC cytokine and chemokine profiles support the concept that IL22-producing cells are present in the human bladder mucosa tissue and that IL22 plays a regulatory role in HUC functions. Thus, the described explant technique is clearly capable of generating functional HUCs suitable for the study of human urinary tract disorders, including interactions between urothelium and IL22-producing cells.
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© 2014 Le et al.