Branching morphogenesis sculpts the airway epithelium of the lung into a tree-like structure to conduct air and promote gas exchange after birth. In the avian lung, a series of buds emerges from the dorsal surface of the primary bronchus via monopodial branching to form the conducting airways; anatomically, these buds are similar to those formed by domain branching in the mammalian lung. Here, we show that monopodial branching is initiated by apical constriction of the airway epithelium, and not by differential cell proliferation, using computational modeling and quantitative imaging of embryonic chicken lung explants. Both filamentous actin and phosphorylated myosin light chain were enriched at the apical surface of the airway epithelium during monopodial branching. Consistently, inhibiting actomyosin contractility prevented apical constriction and blocked branch initiation. Although cell proliferation was enhanced along the dorsal and ventral aspects of the primary bronchus, especially before branch formation, inhibiting proliferation had no effect on the initiation of branches. To test whether the physical forces from apical constriction alone are sufficient to drive the formation of new buds, we constructed a nonlinear, three-dimensional finite element model of the airway epithelium and used it to simulate apical constriction and proliferation in the primary bronchus. Our results suggest that, consistent with the experimental results, apical constriction is sufficient to drive the early stages of monopodial branching whereas cell proliferation is dispensable. We propose that initial folding of the airway epithelium is driven primarily by apical constriction during monopodial branching of the avian lung.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Mechanical stress