Fibroblast growth factor receptor 2b (Fgfr2b) signaling is essential throughout lung development to form the alveolar epithelial lineage. However, its role in alveolar epithelial type 2 cells (AT2s) homeostasis was recently considered dispensable. SftpcCreERT2; Fgfr2bflox/flox; tdTomatoflox/flox mice were used to delete Fgfr2b expression in cells belonging to the AT2 lineage, which contains mature AT2s and a novel SftpcLow lineage-traced population called "injury activated alveolar progenitors" or IAAPs. Upon continuous tamoxifen exposure for either 1 or 2 weeks to delete Fgfr2b, a shrinking of the AT2 population is observed. Mature AT2s exit the cell cycle, undergo apoptosis and fail to form alveolospheres in vitro. However, the lung morphometry appears normal, suggesting the involvement of compensatory mechanisms. In mutant lungs, IAAPs which escaped Fgfr2b deletion expand, display enhanced alveolosphere formation in vitro and increase drastically their AT2 signature, suggesting differentiation towards mature AT2s. Interestingly, a significant increase in AT2s and decrease in IAPPs occurs after a 1-week tamoxifen exposure followed by an 8-week chase period. Although mature AT2s partially recover their alveolosphere formation capabilities, the IAAPs no longer display this property. Single-cell RNA seq analysis confirms that AT2s and IAAPs represent stable and distinct cell populations and recapitulate some of their characteristics observed in vivo. Our results underscore the essential role played by Fgfr2b signaling in the maintenance of the AT2 lineage in the adult lung during homeostasis and suggest that the IAAPs could represent a new population of AT2 progenitors.
Keywords: Alveolar epithelial progenitors activation; Amplification and differentiation; Fgfr2b; Lineage tracing; Organoids.
© 2022. The Author(s).