Lung alveoli: endogenous programmed destruction and regeneration

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2002 Aug;283(2):L305-9. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00035.2002.


Mammalian alveoli, complex architectural and cellular units with dimensions that are linked to the organism's O2 consumption (VO2), are thought to be destroyed only by disease and not to spontaneously regenerate. Calorie restriction of adult mammals lowers VO2, and ad libitum refeeding returns VO2 to pre-calorie-restriction values. We took advantage of these relationships and tested the hypothesis in adult mice that calorie restriction (two-thirds reduction for 2 wk) followed by ad libitum refeeding (3 wk) would cause alveolar destruction and regeneration, respectively. Calorie restriction diminished alveolar number 55% and alveolar surface area 25%. Refeeding fully reversed these changes. Neither manipulation altered lung volume. Within 72 h, calorie restriction increased alveolar wall cell apoptosis and diminished lung DNA (approximately 20%). By 72 h of refeeding, alveolar wall cell replication increased and lung DNA rose to amounts in mice that were never calorie restricted. We conclude that adult mice have endogenous programs to destroy and regenerate alveoli, thereby raising the danger of inappropriate activation but the possibility of therapeutic induction, if similar programs exist in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Cell Division
  • DNA / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Energy Intake
  • Food Deprivation / physiology
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / anatomy & histology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / physiology*
  • Regeneration*
  • Time Factors


  • DNA