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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2005 Jan;288(1):L167-78. Epub 2004 Sep 17.

Role of oxygen and vascular development in epithelial branching morphogenesis of the developing mouse lung.

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Lung Biology Program, Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, University of Toronto, Ontario M5G1X8, Canada.


Recent investigations have suggested an active role for endothelial cells in organ development, including the lung. Herein, we investigated some of the molecular mechanisms underlying normal pulmonary vascular development and their influence on epithelial branching morphogenesis. Because the lung in utero develops in a relative hypoxic environment, we first investigated the influence of low oxygen on epithelial and vascular branching morphogenesis. Two transgenic mouse models, the C101-LacZ (epithelial-LacZ marker) and the Tie2-LacZ (endothelial-LacZ marker), were used. At embryonic day 11.5, primitive lung buds were dissected and cultured at either 20 or 3% oxygen. At 24-h intervals, epithelial and endothelial LacZ gene expression was visualized by X-galactosidase staining. The rate of branching of both tissue elements was increased in explants cultured at 3% oxygen compared with 20% oxygen. Low oxygen increased expression of VEGF, but not that of the VEGF receptor (Flk-1). Expression of two crucial epithelial branching factors, fibroblast growth factor-10 and bone morphogenetic protein-4, were not affected by low oxygen. Epithelial differentiation was maintained at low oxygen as shown by surfactant protein C in situ hybridization. To explore epithelial-vascular interactions, we inhibited vascular development with antisense oligonucleotides targeted against either hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha or VEGF. Epithelial branching morphogenesis in vitro was dramatically abrogated when pulmonary vascular development was inhibited. Collectively, the in vitro data show that a low-oxygen environment enhances branching of both distal lung epithelium and vascular tissue and that pulmonary vascular development appears to be rate limiting for epithelial branching morphogenesis.

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