Structural aspects of postnatal lung development - alveolar formation and growth

Biol Neonate. 2006;89(4):313-22. doi: 10.1159/000092868. Epub 2006 Jun 1.


The human lung is born with a fraction of the adult complement of alveoli. The postnatal stages of human lung development comprise an alveolar stage, a stage of microvascular maturation, and very likely a stage of late alveolarization. The characteristic structural features of the alveolar stage are well known; they are very alike in human and rat lungs. The bases for alveolar formation are represented by immature inter-airspace walls with two capillary layers with a central sheet of connective tissue. Interalveolar septa are formed by folding up of one of the two capillary layers. In the alveolar stage, alveolar formation occurs rapidly and is typically very conspicuous in both species; it has therefore been termed 'bulk alveolarization'. During and after alveolarization the septa with double capillary networks are restructured to the mature form with a single network. This happens in the stage of microvascular maturation. After these steps the lung proceeds to a phase of growth during which capillary growth by intussusception plays an important role in supporting gas exchange. In view of reports that alveoli are added after the stage of microvascular maturation, the question arises whether the present concept of alveolar formation needs revision. On the basis of morphological and experimental findings we can state that mature lungs contain all the features needed for 'late alveolarization' by the classical septation process. Because of the high plasticity of the lung tissues, late alveolarization or some forms of compensatory alveolar formation may be considered for the human lung.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Humans
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / cytology
  • Lung / growth & development*
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / anatomy & histology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / blood supply
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / growth & development*
  • Time Factors