Each of the steps of respiratory system development relies on intricate interactions and coordinated development of the lung epithelium and mesenchyme. In the past, more attention has been paid to the epithelium than the mesenchyme. The mesenchyme is a source of specification and morphogenetic signals as well as a host of surprisingly complex cell lineages that are crucial for normal lung development and function. This review highlights recent research focusing on the mesenchyme that has revealed genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of its development in the context of other cell layers during respiratory lineage specification, branching morphogenesis, epithelial differentiation, lineage distinction, vascular development, and alveolar maturation.
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