Defective pulmonary innervation and autonomic imbalance in congenital diaphragmatic hernia

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2012 Feb 15;302(4):L390-8. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00275.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 23.


Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) is associated with significant mortality due to lung hypoplasia and pulmonary hypertension. The role of embryonic pulmonary innervation in normal lung development and lung maldevelopment in CDH has not been defined. We hypothesize that developmental defects of intrapulmonary innervation, in particular autonomic innervation, occur in CDH. This abnormal embryonic pulmonary innervation may contribute to lung developmental defects and postnatal physiological derangement in CDH. To define patterns of pulmonary innervation in CDH, human CDH and control lung autopsy specimens were stained with the pan-neural marker S-100. To further characterize patterns of overall and autonomic pulmonary innervation during lung development in CDH, the murine nitrofen model of CDH was utilized. Immunostaining for protein gene product 9.5 (a pan-neuronal marker), tyrosine hydroxylase (a sympathetic marker), vesicular acetylcholine transporter (a parasympathetic marker), or VIP (a parasympathetic marker) was performed on lung whole mounts and analyzed via confocal microscopy and three-dimensional reconstruction. Peribronchial and perivascular neuronal staining pattern is less complex in human CDH than control lung. In mice, protein gene product 9.5 staining reveals less complex neuronal branching and decreased neural tissue in nitrofen-treated lungs from embryonic day 12.5 to 16.5 compared with controls. Furthermore, nitrofen-treated embryonic lungs exhibited altered autonomic innervation, with a relative increase in sympathetic nerve staining and a decrease in parasympathetic nerve staining compared with controls. These results suggest a primary defect in pulmonary neural developmental in CDH, resulting in less complex neural innervation and autonomic imbalance. Defective embryonic pulmonary innervation may contribute to lung developmental defects and postnatal physiological derangement in CDH.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Hernia, Diaphragmatic / chemically induced
  • Hernia, Diaphragmatic / pathology
  • Hernias, Diaphragmatic, Congenital*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / embryology
  • Lung / innervation*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Mice
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / embryology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / pathology*
  • Phenyl Ethers
  • Pregnancy
  • S100 Proteins / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / embryology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / pathology*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / metabolism
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Phenyl Ethers
  • S100 Proteins
  • Slc18a3 protein, mouse
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide
  • nitrofen