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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2004 Sep;287(3):L608-15. Epub 2004 May 28.

Expression of epithelial sodium channel alpha-subunit mRNAs with alternative 5'-untranslated regions in the developing human lung.

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Canadian Institutes for Health Research Group in Lung Development, Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8.


In preparation for birth, lung epithelia must switch from net fluid secretion, required for lung development, to net absorption, which prepares the lungs for postnatal gas exchange. The apical membrane amiloride-sensitive epithelial Na channel (ENaC) is the rate-limiting step for Na+ and fluid absorption. Expression of alpha-ENaC mRNA has been detected in human lung as early as the embryonic stage of development. However, humans express multiple transcripts for alpha-ENaC, containing differing 5'-untranslated regions (UTR) with unknown effects on protein translation, and different ontogenies for individual transcripts could provide a novel mechanism for developmental regulation of ENaC function. To assess the relative expression of the two most abundant alpha-ENaC transcripts (alpha-ENaC1 and alpha-ENaC2) during lung development, we performed nonradioactive in situ hybridization using probes specific to the alternative 5'-UTRs. Both transcripts were expressed throughout intrauterine lung development (8 to 40 wk gestation), and expression was localized to the surface epithelial cells of the conductive and respiratory airways in both ciliated cells and nonciliated Clara cells. alpha-ENaC mRNA expression was also identified in the serous cells of the submucosal glands surrounding the proximal airways. In the mature prenatal lung, subsets of alveolar type II (ATII) cells expressed one or both of the alpha-ENaC transcripts. Our observations demonstrate that a developmentally regulated switch between alpha-ENaC 5'-UTR variants is not the trigger by which the developing human lung becomes a fluid-absorbing organ at birth, that individual ATII cells express neither, one, or both of the alpha-ENaC transcripts, and that the overall expression is linked to epithelial cell differentiation and lung maturation.

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