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In this study, we report on the noninvasive identification of spectral markers of alveolar type II (ATII) cell differentiation in vitro using Raman microspectroscopy. ATII cells are progenitor cells for alveolar type I (ATI) cells in vivo, and spontaneously differentiate toward an ATI-like phenotype in culture. We analyzed undifferentiated and differentiated primary human ATII cells, and correlated Raman spectral changes to cellular changes in morphology and marker protein synthesis (surfactant protein C, alkaline phosphatase, caveolin-1). Undifferentiated ATII cells demonstrated spectra with strong phospholipid vibrations, arising from alveolar surfactant stored within cytoplasmic lamellar bodies (Lbs). Differentiated ATI-like cells yielded spectra with significantly less lipid content. Factor analysis revealed a phospholipid-dominated spectral component as the main discriminator between the ATII and ATI-like phenotypes. Spectral modeling of the data revealed a significant decrease in the spectral contribution of cellular lipids-specifically phosphatidyl choline, the main constituent of surfactant, as ATII cells differentiate. These observations were consistent with the clearance of surfactant from Lbs as ATII cells differentiate, and were further supported by cytochemical staining for Lbs. These results demonstrate the first spectral characterization of primary human ATII cells, and provide insight into the biochemical properties of alveolar surfactant in its unperturbed cellular environment.

Original publication




Journal article


Biophys J

Publication Date





5978 - 5987


Animals, Biomarkers, Cattle, Cell Differentiation, Cell Survival, Epithelial Cells, Humans, Phenotype, Principal Component Analysis, Pulmonary Alveoli, Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Proteins, Spectrum Analysis, Raman, Time Factors