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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Aug;91(2):589-95.

Mechanical stretch promotes alveolar epithelial type II cell differentiation.

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Department of Pediatrics, Brown Medical School and Women and Infants' Hospital of Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island 02905, USA.


Functional maturation of pulmonary alveolar epithelial cells is crucial for extrauterine survival. Mechanical distension and mesenchymal-epithelial interactions play important roles in this process. We hypothesized that mechanical stretch simulating fetal breathing movements is an important regulator of pulmonary epithelial cell differentiation. Using a Flexercell Strain Unit, we analyzed effects of stretch on primary cultures of type II cells and cocultures of epithelial and mesenchymal cells isolated from fetal rat lungs during late development. Cyclic stretch of isolated type II cells increased surfactant protein (SP) C mRNA expression by 150 +/- 30% over controls (P < 0.02) on gestational day 18 and by 130 +/- 30% on day 19 (P < 0.03). Stretch of cocultures with fibroblasts increased SP-C expression on days 18 and 19 by 170 +/- 40 and 270 +/- 40%, respectively, compared with unstretched cocultures. On day 19, stretch of isolated type II cells increased SP-B mRNA expression by 50% (P < 0.003). Unlike SP-C, addition of fibroblasts did not produce significant additional effects on SP-B mRNA levels. Under these conditions, we observed only modest increases in cellular immunoreactive SP-B, but secreted saturated phosphatidylcholine rose by 40% (P < 0.002). These results indicate that cyclic stretch promotes developmentally timed differentiation of fetal type II cells, as a direct effect on epithelial cell function and via mesenchymal-epithelial interactions. Expression of the SP-C gene appears to be highly responsive to mechanical stimulation.

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