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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2012 Mar-Apr;1(2):184-202. doi: 10.1002/wdev.12. Epub 2011 Nov 21.

Compartmentalization of the foregut tube: developmental origins of the trachea and esophagus.

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  • 1Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.


The mammalian trachea and esophagus share a common embryonic origin. They arise by compartmentalization of a single foregut tube, composed of foregut endoderm (FGE) and surrounding mesenchyme, around midgestation. Aberrant compartmentalization is thought to lead to relatively common human birth defects, such as esophageal atresia (EA) and tracheoesophageal fistula (EA/TEF), which can prevent or disrupt a newborn infant's ability to feed and breathe. Despite its relevance to human health, morphogenesis of the anterior foregut is still poorly understood. In this article, we provide a comprehensive review of trachea and esophagus formation from a common precursor, including the embryonic origin of the FGE, current models for foregut morphogenesis, relevant human birth defects, insights from rodent models, and the emerging picture of the mechanisms underlying normal and abnormal foregut compartmentalization. Recent research suggests that a number of intercellular signaling pathways and several intracellular effectors are essential for correct formation of the trachea and esophagus. Different types of defects in the formation of either ventral or dorsal foregut tissues can disrupt compartmentalization in rodent models. This implies that EA/TEF defects in humans may also arise by multiple mechanisms. Although our understanding of foregut compartmentalization is growing rapidly, it is still incomplete. Future research should focus on synthesizing detailed information gleaned from both human patients and rodent models to further our understanding of this enigmatic process.

Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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