Allometric relationships of cell numbers and size in the mammalian lung

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 1992 Feb;6(2):235-43. doi: 10.1165/ajrcmb/6.2.235.


Allometric studies have shown that lung volume, alveolar surface area, and diffusing capacity increase proportionally with body weight across a broad range of mammalian species. Changes in the number of cells and in average cell size and surface areas with increasing body weight have not been defined. We speculated that cell size is determined more by cell function than by species and body weight. To test this hypothesis, nine species ranging in size from shrew (2 to 3 g) to horse (510 kg) were studied. Random sites from the distal alveolar region of each species were analyzed using morphometric techniques. Six to 10 nuclei from each of the major classes of parenchymal lung cells were three-dimensionally reconstructed to determine their average diameter, volume, and surface area. To calculate the cell density, nuclear profiles were counted using electron microscopy. The number of cells per lung increased with body mass and lung volume with a slope of 1.01 (r2 = 0.99). The lung is unique among organs in the diversity and function of individual cell types, such as mechanical, sensory, secretory, transporting, and circulating cells. Excluding the circulatory cells, the lung has greater than 60 different cell types, making it an ideal organ for examining the varieties in cell characteristics across different species. Up to 6-fold differences in size were found between different lung cell types within a single species; however, for cells having secretory functions, such as type II cells, there was no detectable change in cell size with increasing lung surface area or body mass.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cricetinae
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Lung / cytology*
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Shrews
  • Species Specificity