The Development of a Standardised Protocol to Measure Squamous Differentiation in Stratified Epithelia, by using the Fluorescein Cadaverine Incorporation Technique

Alison C. Gray, Joanne Malton and Richard H. Clothier

Fluorescein cadaverine (FC) incorporation into cornified envelopes during squamous differentiation in stratified epithelia acts as a fluorescent substitute for endogenous transglutaminase substrates that can be visualised and quantified. The FC incorporation technique has been used to evaluate squamous differentiation in keratinocytes cultured in a medium that stimulates differentiation and in response to modulation by chemicals. A Standard Operating Procedure for the measurement of squamous differentiation is required as part of the prevalidation procedure for in vitro assays. In the present study, keratinocytes were isolated from the epidermis of 34 human donors. Cellular metabolic activity (resorufin production), total protein (kenacid blue uptake) and transglutaminase activity (FC incorporation) were measured in 87 and 21 independent runs at 6 and 12 days, respectively. Analysis of the control data showed that the cultures had a mean resorufin production that decreased over 12 days. This was inversely related to FC incorporation, which increased over 12 days. Mean protein concentration was reduced over the 12 days, but not in analyses that used donors for whom both 6-day and 12-day data were available. This information was used to define the normal limits within which the data should fall (mean ± 1 SD). Data sets falling outside the normal limits performed statistically no differently from the normal responders, in experiments conducted to investigate the effects of chemicals on the modulation of squamous differentiation in keratinocytes. This was demonstrated by using compounds that modify transglutaminase expression and/or activity. All-trans retinoic acid significantly inhibited FC incorporation, but stimulated resorufin production at 1 × 10–7M and above. Nicotine significantly up-regulated both FC incorporation and resorufin production at 125μg/ml. Hence, it was concluded that this robust assay approach, in which keratinocytes from a range of donors respond predictably to the test chemicals employed, did not justify the limitations that would be imposed by setting criteria that eliminated all data lying outside the normal range.
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A Review of In Vitro Modelling Approaches to the Identification and Modulation of Squamous Metaplasia in the Human Tracheobronchial Epithelium

Alison C. Gray, Julie D. McLeod and Richard H. Clothier

Squamous metaplasia in the tracheobronchial epithelium (TBE) involves the replacement of the normal pseudostratified mucociliary epithelium with a stratified squamous epithelium. Squamous metaplasia is considered to be an adaptive response that protects the lumen from the effects of inhaled airborne pollutants, but which might also feature as a pre-neoplastic lesion preceding squamous cell carcinoma. With the exception of transglutaminase I, involucrin, and cytokeratins 5, 6 and 13, few markers that contribute to the squamous phenotype have been identified in human TBE that can be used in diagnosis or to monitor its development in laboratory investigations, and current models are inadequate to provide statistically meaningful data. Therefore, new predictive markers have been identified, and new techniques established, in epithelial in vitro models capable of expressing squamous characteristics, which will be used to identify hazardous exposures and elucidate the mechanisms by which they induce their effects. A protocol for the quantitative detection of transglutaminase activity has been standardised in keratinocytes, based on the enzymatic incorporation of fluorescein–cadaverine (FC) into bis(γ-glutamyl) polyamine cross-links. The specificity of this compound as a transglutaminase substrate was demonstrated by using a range of competitive transglutaminase inhibitors, and by modulation of the squamous pathway. FC incorporation was localised to the cell membrane of terminally differentiating cells, and was not visible in basal, proliferating cells. High calcium-containing medium, nicotine and cigarette smoke condensates (CSC) induced an increase in FC incorporation, providing evidence of their role in enhancing the squamous pathway. Analysis by flow cytometry was used to provide a quantitative assessment of a range of optimised squamous differentiation markers, identified in normal human bronchial epithelia and in a bronchial cell line. Transglutaminase I was induced in a time-dependent manner, in post-confluent cells induced to differentiate down the squamous pathway, whereas involucrin was ubiquitously expressed and the levels of cytokeratins 5, 6 and 18 were reduced. The response of these and other differentiation markers to squamous-inducing conditions is being explored.
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