A role for mesenchyme dynamics in mouse lung branching morphogenesis

PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41643. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041643. Epub 2012 Jul 23.


Mammalian airways are highly ramified tree-like structures that develop by the repetitive branching of the lung epithelium into the surrounding mesenchyme through reciprocal interactions. Based on a morphometric analysis of the epithelial tree, it has been recently proposed that the complete branching scheme is specified early in each lineage by a programme using elementary patterning routines at specific sites and times in the developing lung. However, the coupled dynamics of both the epithelium and mesenchyme have been overlooked in this process. Using a qualitative and quantitative in vivo morphometric analysis of the E11.25 to E13.5 mouse whole right cranial lobe structure, we show that beyond the first generations, the branching stereotypy relaxes and both spatial and temporal variations are common. The branching pattern and branching rate are sensitive to the dynamic changes of the mesoderm shape that is in turn mainly dependent upon the volume and shape of the surrounding intrathoracic organs. Spatial and temporal variations of the tree architecture are related to local and subtle modifications of the mesoderm growth. Remarkably, buds never meet after suffering branching variations and continue to homogenously fill the opening spaces in the mesenchyme. Moreover despite inter-specimen variations, the growth of the epithelial tree and the mesenchyme remains highly correlated over time at the whole lobe level, implying a long-range regulation of the lung lobe morphogenesis. Together, these findings indicate that the lung epithelial tree is likely to adapt in real time to fill the available space in the mesenchyme, rather than being rigidly specified and predefined by a global programme. Our results strongly support the idea that a comprehensive understanding of lung branching mechanisms cannot be inferred from the branching pattern or behavior alone. Rather it needs to be elaborated upon with the reconsideration of mesenchyme-epithelium coupled growth and lung tissues mechanics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bronchi / embryology
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Mesoderm / embryology*
  • Mice
  • Morphogenesis*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / embryology
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Thorax / embryology