Measuring the time evolution of response of Normal Human Bronchial Epithelial (NHBE) cells to aerosols is essential for understanding the pathogenesis of airway disease. This study introduces a novel Real-Time Examination of Cell Exposure (RTECE) system, which enables direct in situ assessment of functional responses of the cell culture during and following exposure to environmental agents. Included are cell morphology, migration, and specialised responses, such as ciliary beat frequency (CBF). Utilising annular nozzles for aerosol injection and installing windows above and below the culture, the cells can be illuminated and examined during exposure. The performance of RTECE is compared to that of the commercial Vitrocell by exposing NHBE cells to cigarette smoke. Both systems show the same mass deposition and similar trends in smoke-induced changes to monolayer permeability, CBF and transepithelial resistance. In situ measurements performed during and after two exposures to smoke show that the CBF decreases gradually during both exposures, recovering after the first, but decreasing sharply after the second. Using Particle image velocimetry, the cell motions are monitored for twelve hours. Exposure to smoke increases the spatially-averaged cell velocity by an order of magnitude. The relative motion between cells peaks shortly after each exposure, but remains elevated and even increases further several hours later.
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