Localization of surfactant-associated protein C (SP-C) mRNA in fetal rabbit lung tissue by in situ hybridization.


Surfactant is a lipoprotein substance that is synthesized and secreted by alveolar type II epithelial cells and acts to reduce surface tension at the air-alveolar interface. SP-C is a 5,000-D molecular weight, hydrophobic, surfactant-associated protein. In the present study, we used a ribonuclease protection assay to show that SP-C mRNA is induced in rabbit fetal lung tissue early in development, increases in relative concentration as development proceeds, and is present in maximal concentration at term (31 days of gestation). We also used the technique of in situ hybridization to localize SP-C mRNA in fetal, neonatal, and adult rabbit lung tissue. SP-C mRNA was present in all of the epithelial cells of the prealveolar region of day 19 gestational age rabbit fetal lung tissue, i.e., about 7 days before the appearance of differentiated alveolar type II cells in the fetal lung tissue. By day 27 of gestation, SP-C mRNA was restricted to epithelial cells with the morphologic characteristics of alveolar type II cells. SP-C mRNA was not detected in bronchiolar epithelium at any stage of lung development. The intensity of SP-C mRNA hybridization in the prealveolar and alveolar type II epithelial cells increased as a function of gestational age and was maximal at term. The pattern of SP-C mRNA localization in neonatal and adult rabbit lung tissue was consistent with the restriction of SP-C gene expression to differentiated alveolar type II cells. Our data are suggestive that SP-C may serve some as yet unknown function early in lung development because it is present in fetal lung prealveolar epithelial cells much earlier in gestation than are differentiated, surfactant-producing alveolar type II cells.

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American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology