Discordant roles for FGF ligands in lung branching morphogenesis between human and mouse

J Pathol. 2019 Feb;247(2):254-265. doi: 10.1002/path.5188. Epub 2018 Dec 13.


Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling plays an important role in lung organogenesis. Over recent decades, FGF signaling in lung development has been extensively studied in animal models. However, little is known about the expression, localization, and functional roles of FGF ligands during human fetal lung development. Therefore, we aimed to determine the expression and function of several FGF ligands and receptors in human lung development. Using in situ hybridization (ISH) and RNA sequencing, we assessed their expression and distribution in native human fetal lung. Human fetal lung explants were treated with recombinant FGF7, FGF9, or FGF10 in air-liquid interface culture. Explants were analyzed grossly to observe differences in branching pattern as well as at the cellular and molecular level. ISH demonstrated that FGF7 is expressed in both the epithelium and mesenchyme; FGF9 is mainly localized in the distal epithelium, whereas FGF10 demonstrated diffuse expression throughout the parenchyma, with some expression in the smooth muscle cells (SMCs). FGFR2 expression was high in both proximal and distal epithelial cells as well as the SMCs. FGFR3 was expressed mostly in the epithelial cells, with lower expression in the mesenchyme, while FGFR4 was highly expressed throughout the mesenchyme and in the distal epithelium. Using recombinant FGFs, we demonstrated that FGF7 and FGF9 had similar effects on human fetal lung as on mouse fetal lung; however, FGF10 caused the human explants to expand and form cysts as opposed to inducing epithelial branching as seen in the mouse. In conjunction with decreased branching, treatment with recombinant FGF7, FGF9, and FGF10 also resulted in decreased double-positive SOX2/SOX9 progenitor cells, which are exclusively present in the distal epithelial tips in early human fetal lung. Although FGF ligand localization may be somewhat comparable between developing mouse and human lungs, their functional roles may differ substantially. Copyright © 2018 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: FGF; development; human; lung.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Lung / embryology
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Morphogenesis
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor / genetics
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • SOX Transcription Factors / genetics
  • SOX Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Species Specificity
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Fibroblast Growth Factor
  • SOX Transcription Factors
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors