BACKGROUND: Human airway organoids are three-dimensional cultures derived from stem cells, which self-organise in ex-vivo conditions to form so-called mini-airways. The cellular morphology of these cultures is physiologically similar to the human airway, with cilia, goblet cells, and club cells facing the inner lumen and basal cells situated at the outer layer. The aim of this study was to compare replication competence, tissue tropism, and host responses elicited by human and avian strains of influenza A virus in ex-vivo human bronchus and human airway organoids.
METHODS: Between Sept 29, 2016, and Jan 4, 2017, we obtained ex-vivo cultures of the human bronchus and cultured human airway organoids from lung stem cells obtained from human lung tissues removed as part of the routine clinical care of patients undergoing surgical resection at the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong. We compared viral replication competence, tissue tropism, and cytokine and chemokine induction of avian influenza A viruses isolated from humans (Sh2/H7N9, H5N1/483, H5N6/39715), and human H1N1pdm/415742 in airway organoids and ex-vivo bronchus explant cultures.
FINDINGS: Virus tropism and replication kinetics of human and avian influenza A viruses in human airway organoids mimicked those found in ex-vivo cultures of human bronchus explants. In both airway organoids and bronchus explants, influenza A H1N1 subtype (H1N1) and avian influenza A H7N9 viruses replicated to significantly higher titres than did the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1, whereas HPAI H5N6 replication was moderate. H1N1, H7N9, and H5N6 viruses infected ciliated cells and goblet cells, but not basal cells in both airway organoids and bronchus explants. The expression of cytokines, interleukin 6, and interferon β, and the chemokine regulated-on-activation, normal T-cell expressed and secreted, was significantly higher in human airway organoids infected with HPAI H5N1 virus than H1N1pdm/415742, Sh2/H7N9, and H5N6/39715 viruses, and the expression of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 was significantly higher in human organoids infected with HPAI H5N1 virus than H1N1pdm/415742 and Sh2/H7N9 viruses.
INTERPRETATION: Human airway organoid cultures provided results that were comparable to those observed in human ex-vivo bronchus cultures, and thus provide an alternative physiologically relevant experimental model for investigating virus tropism and replication competence that could be used to assess the pandemic threat of animal influenza viruses.
FUNDING: US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.