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J Biol Chem. 2006 Mar 3;281(9):5668-76. Epub 2006 Jan 5.

Hemoglobin is expressed by alveolar epithelial cells.

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Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Hemoglobin gene expression in non-erythroid cells has been previously reported in activated macrophages from adult mice and lens cells, and recent studies indicate that alveolar epithelial cells can be derived from hematopoietic stem cells. Our laboratory has now produced strong evidence that hemoglobin is expressed by alveolar type II (ATII) cells and Clara cells, the primary producers of pulmonary surfactant. ATII cells are also closely involved in innate immunity within the lung and are stem cells that differentiate into alveolar type I cells. Reverse transcriptase-PCR was used to measure the expression of transcripts from the alpha- and beta-globin gene clusters in several human and rodent pulmonary epithelial cells. Surprisingly, the two major globin mRNAs characteristic of adult erythroid precursor cells were clearly expressed in human A549 and H441 cell lines, mouse MLE-15 cells, and primary ATII cells isolated from normal rat and mouse lungs. DNA sequencing verified that these PCR products were indeed the result of specific amplification of globin gene cDNAs. These alveolar epithelial cells also expressed the corresponding hemoglobin protein subunits as determined by Western blotting, and tandem mass spectrometry sequencing was used to verify the presence of both alpha- and beta-globin polypeptides in rat primary ATII cells. The function of hemoglobin expression by cells of the pulmonary epithelium will be determined by future studies, but this novel finding could potentially have important implications for the physiology and pathology of the lung.

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