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Development. 2000 Sep;127(18):3913-21.

Basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors regulate the neuroendocrine differentiation of fetal mouse pulmonary epithelium.

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Department of Pathology, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Yokohama, Japan.


To clarify the mechanisms that regulate neuroendocrine differentiation of fetal lung epithelia, we have studied the expression of the mammalian homologs of achaete-scute complex (Mash1) (Ascl1 - Mouse Genome Informatics); hairy and enhancer of split1 (Hes1); and the expression of Notch/Notch-ligand system in the fetal and adult mouse lungs, and in the lungs of Mash1- or Hes1-deficient mice. Immunohistochemical studies revealed that Mash1-positive cells seemed to belong to pulmonary neuroendocrine cells (PNEC) and their precursors. In mice deficient for Mash1, no PNEC were detected. Hes1-positive cells belong to non-neuroendocrine cells. In the mice deficient in Hes1, in which Mash1 mRNA was upregulated, PNEC appeared precociously, and the number of PNEC was markedly increased. NeuroD (Neurod1 - Mouse Genome Informatics) expression in the lung was detected in the adult, and was enhanced in the fetal lungs of Hes1-null mice. Expression of Notch1, Notch2, Notch3 and Notch4 mRNAs in the mouse lung increased with age, and Notch1 mRNA was expressed in a Hes1-dependent manner. Notch1, Notch2 and Notch3 were immunohistochemically detected in non-neuroendocrine cells. Moreover, analyses of the lungs from the gene-targeted mice suggested that expression of Delta-like 1 (Dll1 - Mouse Genome Informatics) mRNA depends on Mash1. Thus, the neuroendocrine differentiation depends on basic helix-loop-helix factors, and Notch/Notch-ligand pathways may be involved in determining the cell differentiation fate in fetal airway epithelium.

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