Postnatal development of alveoli. Regulation and evidence for a critical period in rats

J Clin Invest. 1985 Oct;76(4):1297-305. doi: 10.1172/JCI112103.


In many species, including humans, pulmonary alveoli are formed after birth by septal subdivision of the large gas-exchange saccules present at birth. In rats septation occurs mainly between the 4th and 14th postnatal days (Burri, P. H. 1974. Anat. Rec. 180:77-98), but little is known about the regulation of this process. We found that dexamethasone (0.1 micrograms daily) given to rats from age 4 to 13 d markedly impaired saccule septation to at least age 60 d and also diminished the extent of the increase of alveolar surface area (Sa). Underfeeding from birth to age 14 d did not diminish saccule septation but did result in diminished Sa. We conclude dexamethasone-treated rats have a critical period during which the gas-exchange saccules present at birth must be subdivided. Since Sa increased in dexamethasone-treated rats without a change in alveolar size, and, the enlargement of Sa was diminished in underfed rat pups without a deficit of saccule septation, we postulate new alveoli were formed by means other than septation of the large gas-exchange saccules present at birth. Furthermore, these various means of forming alveoli, and hence of increasing Sa, were differently regulated: dexamethasone decreased the enlargement of Sa brought about by both septation of the gas-exchange saccules present at birth and by other, as yet unidentified, means of forming alveoli; underfeeding did not diminish Sa increases produced by saccule septation but did decrease the extent of Sa enlargement due to the other means of forming alveoli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA Replication / drug effects
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Litter Size
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Male
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / drug effects
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / growth & development*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains / growth & development


  • Dexamethasone
  • DNA