Long-gap esophageal atresia represents a significant challenge for pediatric surgeons and current surgical approaches are associated with significant morbidity. A tissue-engineered esophagus, comprising cells seeded onto a scaffold, represents a therapeutic alternative. In this study, we aimed to determine the optimal techniques for isolation and culture of mouse esophageal epithelial cells and to isolate CD34-positive esophageal epithelial stem cells from cadaveric mouse specimens.
Primary epithelial cells were isolated from mouse esophagi by enzymatic dissociation from the mucosal layer (Dispase, Trypsin/EDTA) using three different protocols. In protocol A, isolated mucosa was minced and incubated with trypsin once. In protocol B, intact mucosal sheets underwent two trypsin incubations yielding a single-cell suspension. In protocol C, intact mucosa explants were plated epithelial side down. Epithelial cells were cultured on collagen-coated wells.
Initial findings showed that Protocol B gave the best results in terms of yield, viability, and least contamination with different cell types and microbes. Esophageal epithelial cells isolated using Protocol B were stained for CD34 and sorted using fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS). Of the total cells sorted, 8.3 % (2–11.3) [%median (range)] were CD34 positive.
Our results demonstrate that mouse esophageal epithelial cells can be successfully isolated from fresh mouse esophagi using two consecutive trypsin incubations of intact mucosal sheets. Furthermore, the cells obtained using this method were successfully stained for CD34, a putative esophageal epithelial stem cell marker. Further research into the factors necessary for the successful proliferation of CD34 positive stem cell lines is needed to progress toward clinical application.