A system to produce a 3D model of human vocal fold tissue (called mucosa) in the laboratory is reported in a study in Nature Communications. When exposed to cigarette smoke, the tissue replicates the response seen in the human larynx, namely, inflammation. This model could enable the study of drugs and treatments for vocal fold diseases or damage.
The vocal folds are the basis of our voice, but they are also essential for separating acoustic communication from the passage of food and drink to the digestive tract, and prevent the entry of substances into the respiratory tract. Vocal folds are susceptible to chronic inflammation, mainly caused by environmental insults (including smoke, allergens or infections). However, it is difficult to study vocal diseases and repair strategies because retrieving cell samples from healthy vocal cords could cause irreversible damage.
Susan Thibeault and colleagues build on their previous work in mice by showing that vocal fold epithelia can be derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The authors show that the hiPSC-derived vocal fold tissue is genetically and morphologically similar to native human vocal fold mucosa. They then exposed their tissue to 5% cigarette smoke extract for one week to see if they could induce inflammation in the mucosa associated with smoking. They found that the smoke caused mucosal inflammation and abnormal remodelling of cell types, affecting the epithelial barrier structure.