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Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2007 Mar;292(3):L769-77. Epub 2006 Nov 17.

Morphometry of the extremely thin pulmonary blood-gas barrier in the chicken lung.

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Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0623, USA.


The gas exchanging region in the avian lung, although proportionally smaller than that of the mammalian lung, efficiently manages respiration to meet the high energetic requirements of flapping flight. Gas exchange in the bird lung is enhanced, in part, by an extremely thin blood-gas barrier (BGB). We measured the arithmetic mean thickness of the different components (endothelium, interstitium, and epithelium) of the BGB in the domestic chicken lung and compared the results with three mammals. Morphometric analysis showed that the total BGB of the chicken lung was significantly thinner than that of the rabbit, dog, and horse (54, 66, and 70% thinner, respectively) and that all layers of the BGB were significantly thinner in the chicken compared with the mammals. The interstitial layer was strikingly thin in the chicken lung ( approximately 86% thinner than the dog and horse, and 75% thinner than rabbit) which is a paradox because the strength of the BGB is believed to come from the interstitium. In addition, the thickness of the interstitium was remarkably uniform, unlike the mammalian interstitium. The uniformity of the interstitial layer in the chicken is attributable to a lack of the supportive type I collagen cable that is found in mammalian alveolar lungs. We propose that the surrounding air capillaries provide additional structural support for the pulmonary capillaries in the bird lung, thus allowing the barrier to be both very thin and extremely uniform. The net result is to improve gas exchanging efficiency.

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