Multiciliated epithelial cells in the airway are essential for mucociliary clearance. Their function relies on coordinated, metachronal and directional ciliary beating, appropriate mucus secretion and airway surface hydration. However, current conventional methods for observing human airway ciliary movement require ciliated cells to be detached from airway tissues. Determining the directionality of cilia is difficult. We developed a novel method to stain airway epithelial cilia to observe their movement without releasing ciliated cells. Human tracheae were obtained from patients (n = 13) who underwent laryngectomies to treat malignancies or swallowing disorders. The tracheae were treated with fluorescently labeled wheat germ agglutinin, which interacts with the acidic mucopolysaccharides present on the cilia. Epithelial surfaces were observed using an epi-fluorescence microscope equipped with a water-immersion objective lens and a high-speed camera. Ciliary movement was observable at 125 fps (13/13 samples). Ciliated cells in close proximity mostly exhibited well-coordinated ciliary beats with similar directionalities. These findings indicated that wheat germ agglutinin renders ciliary beats visible, which is valuable for observing human airway ciliary movements in situ.
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