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Anat Rec. 1991 Jan;229(1):73-85.

An ultrastructural, morphometric analysis of rabbit fetal lung type II cell differentiation in vivo.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City 52242.


Rabbit lung type II cell differentiation was evaluated by use of ultrastructural, morphometric techniques. Fetal lung epithelial cells decreased in size dramatically from day 19 to day 21 of gestation. Thereafter, the cell and cytoplasmic cross-sectional area declined gradually until the neonatal time point. The tall columnar cell shape characteristic of fetal lung epithelial cells at early stages of development became cuboidal by day 24 of gestation. The number of mitochondria per micron2 cytoplasmic area in presumptive alveolar epithelial cells and the mitochondrial volume density increased toward the end of gestation. The volume density of glycogen pools within fetal lung epithelial cells reached a plateau on day 21 of gestation and then declined sharply on day 26 of gestation in lamellar body-containing, type II epithelial cells. Lamellar bodies increased in number and volume density in epithelial cells starting on day 26 of gestation and peaked with respect to these parameters in the neonatal lung tissue. Multivesicular bodies, which are thought to be a precursor to the lamellar body, became more prominent in differentiated type II cells on day 26 of gestation and increased in volume density from day 28 of gestation to the adult time point. The distance between mesenchymal and epithelial cells in fetal lung tissue declined sharply between days 24 and 26 of gestation but remained relatively constant thereafter. Foot processes extending from connective tissue cells contiguous to the epithelium were generally more numerous than those extending from the basal plasma membrane of epithelial cells at every stage of development examined. These data quantitate for the first time key ultrastructural events that occur during the differentiation of fetal lung epithelial cells in vivo.

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