The mammalian respiratory lineage, consisting of the trachea and lung, originates from the ventral foregut in an early embryo. Reciprocal signaling interactions between the foregut epithelium and its associated mesenchyme guide development of the respiratory endoderm, from a naive sheet of cells to multiple cell types that line a functional organ. This review synthesizes current understanding of the early events in respiratory system development, focusing on three main topics: (1) specification of the respiratory system as a distinct organ of the endoderm, (2) patterning and differentiation of the nascent respiratory epithelium along its proximal-distal axis, and (3) plasticity of the respiratory cells during the process of development. This review also highlights areas in need of further study, including determining how early endoderm cells rapidly switch their responses to the same signaling cues during development, and how the general proximal-distal pattern of the lung is converted to fine-scale organization of multiple cell types along this axis.
Copyright © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.