Background Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is a recognized chemical asthmogen; yet, the mechanisms of its toxicity have not been elucidated.
Objective To investigate the influence of TDI on the permeability of human bronchial epithelial cell (HBE; HBE135-E6E7) monolayers in vitro, and the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in these cells.
Methods TDI–human serum albumin (HSA) conjugates were prepared by a modification of Son's method. Fluorescein isothiocyanate-labelled dextran and transmission electron microscopy were used to evaluate the effects of TDI–HSA on HBE135-E6E7 permeability. RT-PCR and ELISA were used to evaluate VEGF gene expression and protein release from HBE135-E6E7 cells stimulated by TDI–HSA. A VEGF-neutralizing antibody was used in monolayer permeability experiments to determine the role of the VEGF pathway in this process.
Results TDI–HSA significantly increased the permeability coefficients of HBE135-E6E7 monolayers (P<0.01). TDI–HSA treatment significantly increased the expression of VEGF165 and VEGF189 genes (P<0.01). ELISA showed that TDI significantly induces VEGF release from HBE135-E6E7 cells. Cells treated with TDI–HSA and VEGF-neutralizing antibody had significantly lower permeability coefficients than cells treated with TDI–HSA only (P<0.01), but still significantly higher than control cells (P<0.01). Cells treated with TDI–HSA had fewer tight junctions (TJs) than control and HSA-treated cells, and addition of the anti-VEGF antibody did not restore the original number of TJs.
Conclusion TDI increases the permeability of HBE cell monolayers, partly through a VEGF-mediated pathway. This suggests the importance of VEGF in TDI-induced pulmonary diseases, but shows that other pathways may be involved in the pathogenic process.