In vitro models are promising approaches to investigate the adverse effects and the mode of action of air pollutants on the respiratory tract. We designed a dynamic system that allows the single or repeated exposure of cultured cells to two major indoor air gaseous pollutants, formaldehyde (HCHO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), alone or as a mixture. In this system, the Calu-3 human bronchial epithelial cell line was exposed at the air–liquid interface (ALI) or submerged by culture medium to synthetic air or to target concentrations of HCHO and/or NO2 once or on 4 consecutive days before assessment of cell viability and necrosis, IL-6 and IL-8 release and trans-epithelial electrical resistance. Our data showed that whereas the ALI method can be used for single short-term exposures only, the submerged method provides the possibility to expose Calu-3 cells in a repeated manner. As well, we found that repeated exposures of the cells to HCHO and NO2 at concentrations that can be found indoors triggered a significant decrease in cell metabolism and an increase in IL-8 release that were not evoked by a single exposure. Thus, our work highlights the fact that the development of systems and methods that allow repeated exposures of cultured cells to gaseous compounds in mixtures is of major interest to evaluate the impact of air pollution on the respiratory tract.
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