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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2007 Mar;292(3):L725-41. Epub 2006 Nov 17.

Mesenchymal maintenance of distal epithelial cell phenotype during late fetal lung development.

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  • 1Lung Biology Program, Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Ave., Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1X8, Canada.


Classical tissue recombination experiments have reported that at early gestation both tracheal and distal lung epithelium have the plasticity to respond to mesenchymal signals. Herein we examined the role of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions in maintaining epithelial differentiation at late (E19-E21, term = 22 days) fetal gestation in the rat. Isolated distal lung epithelial cells were recombined with mesenchymal cells from lung, skin, and intestine, and the homotypic or heterotypic recombinant cell aggregates were cultured for up to 5 days. Recombining lung epithelial cells with mesenchyme from various sources induced a morphological pattern that was specific to the type of inducing mesenchyme. In situ analysis of surfactant protein (SP)-C, SP-B, and Clara cell secretory protein (CCSP) expression, as well as SP-C and CCSP promoter transactivation experiments, revealed that distal lung epithelium requires lung mesenchyme to maintain the alveolar, but not bronchiolar, phenotype. Incubation of lung recombinants with an anti-FGF7 antibody resulted in a partial inhibition of mesenchyme-induced SP-C promoter transactivation. Immunoreactivity for Delta and Lunatic fringe, components of the Notch pathway that regulates cell differentiation, was downregulated in the heterotypic recombinants. In contrast, Hes1 mRNA expression was increased in these recombinants. Cumulatively, these results suggest that at late fetal gestation, distal lung epithelial cells are not fully committed to a specific phenotype and still have the plasticity to respond to various signals. Their alveolar phenotype is likely maintained by Notch/Notch ligand interactions and mesenchymal factors, including FGF7.

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