Deconvoluting Lung Evolution Using Functional/Comparative Genomics

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Parathyroid Hormone-related Protein (PTHrP) is a highly evolutionarily conserved, stretch-regulated gene that is necessary for the embryonic transition from branching morphogenesis to alveolization of the lung. It is expressed throughout vertebrate phylogeny, beginning with its expression in the fish swim bladder as an adaptation to gravity; microgravity downregulates the expression of PTHrP by alveolar type II cells, and by bones from rats exposed to 0 × g, suggesting that PTHrP signaling has been exploited for adaptation to 1 × g. PTHrP/PTHrP receptor signaling is upregulated by stretching alveolar type II cells and intersitial lung fibroblasts, whereas overdistension downregulates PTHrP and PTHrP receptor mRNA, further suggesting an evolutionary adaptation. Both surfactant homeostasis and alveolar capillary perfusion are under PTHrP control, indicating that alveolization and ventilation/perfusion matching may have evolved under the influence of PTHrP signaling. Phylogenetic analysis of lung evolution reflects the concomitant increases in alveolar surface area and surfactant production by “amplifying” the PTHrP pathway signal. This mechanism is discussed as a function of increased evolutionary respiratory demand to keep up with the increased metabolic demand for oxygen, and the role of the PTHrP signaling mechanism in leveraging this process.

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