Pediatric and Developmental Pathology

, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp 439–449

Embryonic and Early Fetal Development of Human Lung Vasculature and Its Functional Implications


  • Daphne E. deMello
    • Department of Pathology, St. Louis University Health Sciences Center and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, 1465 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63104, USA
  • Lynne M. Reid
    • Department of Pathology, Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

DOI: 10.1007/s100240010090

Cite this article as:
deMello, D.E. & Reid, L.M. Pediatr. Dev. Pathol. (2000) 3: 439. doi:10.1007/s100240010090


Recently, we have identified in the mouse three processes involved in the early development of pulmonary vasculature: angiogenesis for branching of central vessels, vasculogenesis (lakes in the mesenchyme) for peripheral vessels, and a lytic process to establish luminal connection between the two. We have established that these three processes also operate in the human by studying serial sections of human embryos and early fetuses. Vascular lakes of hematopoietic cells appear at stage 13, i.e., 4+ weeks gestational age (GA), the first intrapulmonary vascular structure to appear. At stage 20 (50.5 days GA), a venous network with luminal connections to central pulmonary veins (PV) is present. Airways have not yet reached these regions of lung.

At its first intrapulmonary appearance, the pulmonary artery (PA) is small and thick walled: it runs with the airway but its branching is slower, so many peripheral airways are not accompanied by a PA branch. By contrast, the PV has a peripheral patent network well before the PA.

In the pseudoglandular phase, airway branching continues, and the PA catches up so that small PA branches are found with all airways. Later in this phase small nonmuscular vessels lie in the mesenchyme close to airway epithelium.

By the early canalicular phase and the age of viability, continuity between pulmonary artery and the peripheral capillary network must be established. In a 10-week fetus several structures suggesting a breakthrough site were seen. Air-blood barrier structure is first seen at 19 weeks. Thus in the lung, the PA and PV are dissociated in their timing and pattern of branching. Early veins are present diffusely through the mesenchyme and establish central luminal connection to the main pulmonary vein before airway or artery are present at this level.

Key words: angiogenesis, development, embryo, fetus, lung, vascular

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© Society for Pediatric Pathology 2000