The postnatal development and growth of the human lung. I. Morphometry

Respir Physiol. 1987 Mar;67(3):247-67. doi: 10.1016/0034-5687(87)90057-0.


The lungs of 7 children (age: 26 days to 5 years 4 months) who died from non-respiratory causes were morphometrically investigated by means of light and electron microscopy. For analysis, the set of data was supplemented with results obtained previously on 8 normal adult lungs using similar quantitative techniques (Gehr et al., 1978). The results allowed us to distinguish two phases of postnatal lung development and growth, the first phase lasting from birth to about 18 months and the second phase from then to adulthood. The first phase was characterized by an overproportionate volume increase in the O2-transporting media, air and blood, at the expense of the parenchymal tissue compartment. In the second phase, the volumetric composition of the lung did not change further because there was proportionate growth of all lung compartments. The growth curves for the airspace and capillary surface areas were not biphasic: they increased in direct proportion to lung volume from birth to adulthood, indicating a steady increase in the air-blood interface complexity during the entire growth period. As a consequence of the differences in growth paces between the various structural lung components in early childhood, the morphometric parameters showed large variations in their overall growth rates between birth and adulthood. Thus, the parenchymal tissue components increased by a factor of 15, lung volume and the gas-exchange surface areas between 20 and 25 times (in parallel to body mass), and, finally, the O2-transporting media, air and blood, more than 30 times. The morphometrically determined pulmonary diffusing capacity for O2 (DLO2) scaled with body mass to the power of 1.15, a value significantly different from 1. This relative improvement with age of the gas exchange function per unit body mass is due mainly to an overproportionate growth of the capillary blood compartment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Volume
  • Capillaries / growth & development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / growth & development*
  • Lung / ultrastructure
  • Lung Volume Measurements / methods
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / growth & development
  • Pulmonary Diffusing Capacity