Control of airway tube diameter and integrity by secreted chitin-binding proteins in Drosophila

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e67415. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067415. Print 2013.


The transporting function of many branched tubular networks like our lungs and circulatory system depend on the sizes and shapes of their branches. Understanding the mechanisms of tube size control during organ development may offer new insights into a variety of human pathologies associated with stenoses or cystic dilations in tubular organs. Here, we present the first secreted luminal proteins involved in tube diametric expansion in the Drosophila airways. obst-A and gasp are conserved among insect species and encode secreted proteins with chitin binding domains. We show that the widely used tracheal marker 2A12, recognizes the Gasp protein. Analysis of obst-A and gasp single mutants and obst-A; gasp double mutant shows that both genes are primarily required for airway tube dilation. Similarly, Obst-A and Gasp control epidermal cuticle integrity and larval growth. The assembly of the apical chitinous matrix of the airway tubes is defective in gasp and obst-A mutants. The defects become exaggerated in double mutants indicating that the genes have partially redundant functions in chitin structure modification. The phenotypes in luminal chitin assembly in the airway tubes are accompanied by a corresponding reduction in tube diameter in the mutants. Conversely, overexpression of Obst-A and Gasp causes irregular tube expansion and interferes with tube maturation. Our results suggest that the luminal levels of matrix binding proteins determine the extent of diametric growth. We propose that Obst-A and Gasp organize luminal matrix assembly, which in turn controls the apical shapes of adjacent cells during tube diameter expansion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / metabolism
  • Body Size
  • Chitin / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / anatomy & histology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism*
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Integumentary System / anatomy & histology
  • Larva / anatomy & histology
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / ultrastructure
  • Morphogenesis
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Binding
  • Trachea / anatomy & histology*
  • Trachea / growth & development
  • Trachea / metabolism*
  • Trachea / ultrastructure


  • Antigens
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Chitin

Grant support

The work was supported by grants from Cancerfonden and Vetenskapsrådet to CS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.