J Vis Exp. 2023 Sep 1;(199). doi: 10.3791/65484.
There has been an increase in the use of in vivo and in vitro intestinal models to study the pathophysiology of inflammatory intestinal diseases, for the pharmacological screening of potentially beneficial substances, and for toxicity studies on potentially harmful food components. Of relevance, there is a current demand for the development of cell-based in vitro models to substitute animal models. Here, a protocol for a basic, “healthy tissue” three-dimensional (3D) intestinal equivalent model using cell lines is presented with the dual benefit of providing both experimental simplicity (standardized and easily repeatable system) and physiological complexity (Caco-2 enterocytes with a supporting immune component of U937 monocytes and L929 fibroblasts). The protocol also includes paraffin embedding for light microscopic evaluation of fixed intestinal equivalents, thereby providing the advantage of analyzing multiple visual parameters from a single experiment. Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stained sections showing the Caco-2 columnar cells forming a tight and regular monolayer in control treatments are used to verify the efficacy of the model as an experimental system. Using gluten as a pro-inflammatory food component, parameters analyzed from sections include reduced monolayer thickness, as well as disruption and detachment from the underlying matrix (H&E), decreased tight junction protein expression as shown from occludin staining (quantifiable statistically), and immune-activation of migrating U937 cells as evidenced from the cluster of differentiation 14 (CD14) staining and CD11b-related differentiation into macrophages. As shown by using lipopolysaccharide to simulate intestinal inflammation, additional parameters that can be measured are increased mucus staining and cytokine expression (such as midkine) that can be extracted from the medium prior to fixation. The basic three-dimensional (3D) intestinal mucosa model and fixed sections can be recommended for inflammatory status and barrier integrity studies with the possibility of analyzing multiple visual quantifiable parameters.