Toxicity testing of combustion aerosols at the air-liquid interface with a self-contained and easy-to-use exposure system

March 9, 2016


Sonja Mülhopt a, i, Marco Dilger a, b, i, Silvia Diabaté b, i, Christoph Schlager a, i, Tobias Krebs c, i, Ralf Zimmermann d, h, i, Jeroen Buters e, i, Sebastian Oeder e, g, i, Thomas Wäscher f, Carsten Weiss b, i, Hanns-Rudolf Paur a, i

a Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute for Technical Chemistry, Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, 76344 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany
b Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Toxicology and Genetics, Hermann-von-Helmholtz-Platz 1, 76344 Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany
c Vitrocell Systems GmbH, Fabrik Sonntag 3, 79183 Waldkirch, Germany
d University of Rostock, Institute of Chemistry, Dr.-Lorenz-Weg 1, 18051 Rostock, Germany
e Center of Allergy & Environment (ZAUM), Technische Universität and Helmholtz Zentrum München, Biedersteiner Str. 29, 80802 München, Germany
f Ingenieurbüro für Energie- und Verfahrenstechnik, Von-Dalheim-Str. 2, 69231 Rauenberg, Germany
g Kühne Foundation, Christine Kühne Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK- CARE), München, Germany

Cooperation Group “Comprehensive Molecular Analytics” – CMA, Helmholtz Zentrum München, 85764 Oberschleißheim/ Germany

HICE – Helmholtz Virtual Institute of Complex Molecular Systems in Environmental Health
– Aerosols and Health



• We present a fully automated Air-Liquid-Interface Exposure System.
• System characterisation shows a high reproducibility.
• Wood combustion aerosol causes cytotoxicity in human lung epithelial cells.
• Gene regulation caused by ship diesel emissions in human lung epithelial cells.

In vitro toxicity testing of airborne particles usually takes place in multi-well plates, where the cells are exposed to a suspension of particles in cell culture medium. Due to the artefacts caused by particle collection and preparation of suspensions, the air-liquid interface (ALI) exposure is challenging this conventional exposure technique to become the method of choice. The ALI technique allows for direct sampling of an aerosol and exposure of cell cultures to airborne particles. At the same time, it reflects the physiological conditions in the lung to a greater extent. So far, the available ALI systems have mostly been laboratory set-ups of the single components. Here, we present a mobile and complete system providing all process technology required for cell exposure experiments at dynamic aerosol sources. The system is controlled by a human machine interface (HMI) with standard routines for experiments and internal testing to assure reproducibility. It also provides documentation of the exposure experiment regarding process parameters and measured doses. The performance of this system is evaluated using fluorescein-sodium dosimetry, which is also used to determine the factor of dose enhancement by optional electrostatic deposition. The application of the system is shown for two different technical aerosol sources: wood smoke particles emitted by a household log wood stove and emissions from a ship diesel engine. After exposure of lung cells, cytotoxicity and gene regulation on a genome-wide scale were analysed.

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