Mammalian lung development is mediated through complex interactions between foregut endoderm and surrounding mesenchyme. As airway branching progresses, the mesenchyme undergoes dramatic remodeling and differentiation. Little is understood about the mechanisms that direct mesenchymal organization during lung development. A screen for candidate genes mediating this process identified Slit, a ligand for the Roundabout (Robo) receptor previously associated with guidance of axonal projections during central nervous system development. Here, we demonstrate by in situ hybridization that two Slit genes (Slit-2 and Slit-3) and two Robo genes (Robo-1 and Robo-2) are expressed in fetal lung mesenchyme. Slit-2 and Robo-1 expression is present throughout mesenchyme at midgestation and is not detectable by newborn day 1. Slit-3 and Robo-2 expression is restricted to specific, complementary subsets of mesenchyme. Robo-2 is expressed in mesenchymal cells immediately adjacent to large airways, whereas Slit-3 expression predominates in mesenchyme remote from airway epithelium. The temporal and spatial distribution of Slit and Robo mRNAs indicate that these genes may direct the functional organization and differentiation of fetal lung mesenchyme.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.