Composition of the Pulmonary Interstitium during Normal Development of the Human Fetus
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Normal lung development is dependent on epithelial–mesenchymal interactions. This study was undertaken to examine the structure of the interstitium of the developing human fetal lung, concentrating particularly on the first and second trimesters. Lung tissue was obtained at autopsy from nonmalformed, nonmacerated cases of spontaneous abortion (n = 15), stillbirth (n = 9), and very early neonatal death (n = 5) (range of gestations, 10–42 weeks). Paraffin-embedded tissue sections were examined using immunohistochemical methods to determine expression of collagens I, III, IV, V, and VI; the glycoproteins fibronectin and laminin; and the intermediate filaments vimentin, α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA), and desmin. Collagens III and VI and cells expressing αSMA were present consistently at points of airway branching and secondary crest formation, indicating a role for these components in the initiation and stabilization of airway branches in the developing lung. Desmin expression by stromal cells succeeded αSMA temporally, and may represent a marker of terminal smooth muscle differentiation within the airway; it was not detected in the vascular tree. Other components were widely expressed throughout the extracellular matrix, including basement membranes, at all gestations. The spatial and temporal patterns of expression of components of the lung interstitium provide clues to the mechanisms underlying normal human lung development and possible insights into the pathogenesis of fetal and neonatal lung disease.
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