Nuclear factor-kappa-B signaling in lung development and disease: one pathway, numerous functions

Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2014 Mar;100(3):202-16. doi: 10.1002/bdra.23233. Epub 2014 Mar 17.


In contrast to other organs, the lung completes a significant portion of its development after term birth. During this stage of alveolarization, division of the alveolar ducts into alveolar sacs by secondary septation, and expansion of the pulmonary vasculature by means of angiogenesis markedly increase the gas exchange surface area of the lung. However, postnatal completion of growth renders the lung highly susceptible to environmental insults such as inflammation that disrupt this developmental program. This is particularly evident in the setting of preterm birth, where impairment of alveolarization causes bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a chronic lung disease associated with significant morbidity. The nuclear factor κ-B (NFκB) family of transcription factors are ubiquitously expressed, and function to regulate diverse cellular processes including proliferation, survival, and immunity. Extensive evidence suggests that activation of NFκB is important in the regulation of inflammation and in the control of angiogenesis. Therefore, NFκB-mediated downstream effects likely influence the lung response to injury and may also mediate normal alveolar development. This review summarizes the main biologic functions of NFκB, and highlights the regulatory mechanisms that allow for diversity and specificity in downstream gene activation. This is followed by a description of the pro and anti-inflammatory functions of NFκB in the lung, and of NFκB-mediated angiogenic effects. Finally, this review summarizes the clinical and experimental data that support a role for NFκB in mediating postnatal angiogenesis and alveolarization, and discusses the challenges that remain in developing therapies that can selectively block the detrimental functions of NFκB yet preserve the beneficial effects.

Keywords: angiogenesis; bronchopulmonary dysplasia; endothelial cells; inflammation; mouse models.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia* / metabolism
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia* / pathology
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia* / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Premature Birth*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / blood supply
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / growth & development
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / pathology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction*


  • NF-kappa B