Pulmonary alveolar epithelial development and response to injury, development of biomarkers for the measurement of lung injury
Our laboratory studies the pulmonary alveolar epithelium. More than 99% of the large internal surface area of the lung (in humans ~100-150 m2) is lined by the alveolar epithelium, which is comprised of type I and type II cells, both of which are thought to be essential for mammalian life. Type I cells are very large squamous cells that cover more than 98% of the internal surface area of the lung, providing a narrow anatomic barrier between the air and blood compartments critical for efficient gas exchange. Type II cells are small cuboidal cells characterized by morphologically distinct secretory organelles, lamellar bodies, which contain the intracellular storage pool of pulmonary surfactant. In vivo, type II cells have the capacity to repair injured alveoli, acquiring at least some characteristics of the type I cell phenotype; under these conditions, they appear to transdifferentiate. Current accepted paradigms are that type I cells play a minimal functional role in the lung, but that type II cells perform major alveolar epithelial functions, including acting as progenitor cells during development and after injury. These paradigms do not adequately explain the results of recent experiments in our laboratory. We have developed novel methods for isolating and studying type I cells, which have previously have been resistant to study. Experiments with both in vitro and in vivo models suggest both a major role for the type I cell in ion and fluid transport and revised paradigms for both alveolar epithelial development and response to injury.
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