Overview of Lung Development in the Newborn Human

Neonatology. 2017;111(4):398-401. doi: 10.1159/000458465. Epub 2017 May 25.


In human neonates rapid adaptation from an aqueous intrauterine environment to permanent air breathing is the rate-limiting step for extrauterine life, failure of which justifies the existence of neonatal intensive care units. The lung develops at about 4-6 weeks' gestation in humans as a ventral outpouching of the primitive foregut into the surrounding ventral mesenchyme, termed the laryngotracheal groove. At its posterior end lie progenitor cells that form a pair of bronchial tubes, from which arise all the distal epithelial structures of the lung. In humans, formation of the distal gas exchange surfaces begins in utero at about 20 weeks' gestation and is substantially established by term. Stereotypic branching of the proximal airway ends relatively early at 16-18 weeks at the bronchoalveolar duct junctions. Distally, about 5 finger-like alveolar ducts arise from each bronchoalveolar duct junction and ramify outwards towards the pleura. The majority of alveolar air sacs arise from the sides of the alveolar ducts and each of these alveoli can have up to 5 daughter alveoli arising from the outer surface as subsequent buds. At the end of each alveolar duct lie the mouths of 5 interconnected alveoli. Each family of alveoli arising from each bronchoalveolar duct junction has a different shape depending upon the limitations imposed by the pleural surface as well as the interstitial fascial planes.

Keywords: Human; Lung development; Newborn infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fetal Development*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / embryology*