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J Anat. 2008 Feb;212(2):164-79. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00849.x. Epub 2007 Dec 21.

Postnatal lung and metabolic development in two marsupial and four eutherian species.

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Institute of Systematic Zoology, Museum of Natural History, Berlin, Germany.


Two marsupial species (Monodelphis domestica, Macropus eugenii) and four eutherian species (Mesocricetus auratus, Suncus murinus, Tupaia belangeri and Cavia aperea) were examined to compare and contrast the timing of lung and metabolic development during the postnatal maturation of the mammalian respiratory apparatus. Using light, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, the lung structural changes were correlated with indirect calorimetry to track the metabolic development. Marsupial and eutherian species followed the same pattern of mammalian lung development, but differed in the developmental pace. In the two newborn marsupial species, the lung parenchyma was at the early terminal sac stage, with large terminal air sacs, and the lung developed slowly. In contrast, the newborn eutherian species had more advanced lungs at the late terminal sac stage in altricial species (M. auratus, S. murinus) and at the alveolar stage in precocial species (T. belangeri, C. aperea). Postnatal lung development proceeded rapidly in eutherian species. The marsupial species had a low metabolic rate at birth and achieved adult metabolism late in postnatal development. In contrast, newborn eutherian species had high metabolic rates and reached adult metabolism during the first week of life. The time course of the metabolic development is thus tightly linked to the structural differentiation of the lungs and the timing of postnatal lung development. These differences in the neonatal lung structure and the timing of postnatal lung maturation between marsupial and eutherian species reflect their differing reproductive strategies.

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