Analysis of intrapulmonary vessels and epithelial-endothelial interactions in the human developing lung

Lab Invest. 2002 Mar;82(3):293-301. doi: 10.1038/labinvest.3780423.


The establishment of a sufficiently wide and functional blood-gas interface is of critical importance in lung development, but development of the intrapulmonary vascular system including alveolar capillary vessels still remains unclear. In this study, we first characterized the structural development of the vascular system in accordance with that of airways in human fetal lungs at the pseudoglandular phase (8, 13, and 16 weeks gestation) by examining the immunohistochemical distribution of CD34 and alpha-smooth muscle actin (SMA). Using double immunohistochemistry and 3-dimensional reconstruction techniques, endothelial cells in the developing lung could be classified into two different types according to the characteristics of their adjacent cells (presence or absence of SMA-positive cells) and their distribution (proximal or distal lung parenchyme). Endothelial cells without SMA-positive cells developed into a capillary network surrounding the budding components of distal airways during the mid-pseudoglandular phase before communicating with proximal vessels. We then examined the immunoreactivity of thrombomodulin and von Willebrand factor (vWF) in endothelial cells. Endothelial cells of the capillary network were mainly positive for vWF during the early gestational stages, but altered their phenotypes to those of mature lungs (vWF negative and thrombomodulin positive) during the terminal sac phase. We subsequently determined the immunohistochemical distribution of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Epithelial cells of the most distal airways were intensely positive for VEGF. These results suggest that VEGF present in airway epithelial cells is involved in the maturation as well as proliferation of capillary endothelial cells. Epithelial-endothelial interactions during lung development are considered very important in the establishment of the functional blood-gas interface.

MeSH terms

  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Endothelial Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / embryology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Lymphokines / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / blood supply
  • Thrombomodulin / metabolism
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • von Willebrand Factor / metabolism


  • Endothelial Growth Factors
  • Lymphokines
  • Thrombomodulin
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factors
  • von Willebrand Factor