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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1988 May;93(3):472-83.

The alveolar type II epithelial cell: a multifunctional pneumocyte.

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Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia.


The epithelial surface of the alveoli is composed of alveolar type I and type II cells. Alveolar type I cells comprise 96% of the alveolar surface area. These cells are extremely thin, thus, minimizing diffusion distance between the alveolar air space and pulmonary capillary blood. Type II cells are spherical pneumocytes which comprise only 4% of the alveolar surface area, yet they constitute 60% of alveolar epithelial cells and 10-15% of all lung cells. Four major functions have been attributed to alveolar type II cells: (1) synthesis and secretion of surfactant; (2) xenobiotic metabolism; (3) transepithelial movement of water; and (4) regeneration of the alveolar epithelium following lung injury. Therefore, alveolar type II cells play important roles in normal pulmonary function and in the response of the lung to toxic compounds which may cause lung damage. Techniques have now been developed to isolate and purify alveolar type II epithelial cells from lung tissue. Such cellular preparations afford bioassay systems to monitor the effects of occupational or environmental pollutants on alveolar pneumocytes and should yield important information concerning the etiology of pulmonary disease in the alveolar region of the lung.

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