The development and plasticity of alveolar type 1 cells

Jun Yang, Belinda J. Hernandez, Denise Martinez Alanis, Odemaris Narvaez del Pilar, Lisandra Vila-Ellis, Haruhiko Akiyama, Scott E. Evans, Edwin J. Ostrin, Jichao Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations

Abstract

Alveolar type 1 (AT1) cells cover >95% of the gas exchange surface and are extremely thin to facilitate passive gas diffusion. The development of these highly specialized cells and its coordination with the formation of the honeycomb-like alveolar structure are poorly understood. Using new marker-based stereology and single-cell imaging methods, we show that AT1 cells in the mouse lung form expansive thin cellular extensions via a non-proliferative two-step process while retaining cellular plasticity. In the flattening step, AT1 cells undergo molecular specification and remodel cell junctions while remaining connected to their epithelial neighbors. In the folding step, AT1 cells increase in size by more than 10-fold and undergo cellular morphogenesis that matches capillary and secondary septa formation, resulting in a single AT1 cell spanning multiple alveoli. Furthermore, AT1 cells are an unexpected source of VEGFA and their normal development is required for alveolar angiogenesis. Notably, a majority of AT1 cells proliferate upon ectopic SOX2 expression and undergo stage-dependent cell fate reprogramming. These results provide evidence that AT1 cells have both structural and signaling roles in alveolar maturation and can exit their terminally differentiated non-proliferative state. Our findings suggest that AT1 cells might be a new target in the pathogenesis and treatment of lung diseases associated with premature birth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-65
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Volume143
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Keywords

  • Alveolar angiogenesis
  • Cell plasticity
  • Lung development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology

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