It is only very late in pregnancy that the lungs of the fetus complete their development so that the fetus will be able to breathe air when it is born. As a result, many premature babies suffer from the potentially life threatening respiratory distress syndrome. The proteins that control the final stages of lung development have not been identified.
Now, in a study appearing online on September 21, in advance of publication in the October print issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Vrushank Dav้ and colleagues from the University of Cincinnati, show that in mice a protein known as calcineurin is essential for complete lung development.
Mice lacking calcineurin function in the epithelial cells of the lung were unable to breathe properly and died shortly after birth because their lungs failed to develop fully. These effects of calcineurin were mediated by a protein known as NFATc3, which was shown to activate the expression of many of the genes that need to be activated if the final stages of lung development are to proceed normally.
This study describes one pathway controlling the final stages of lung development in mice and might help researchers design strategies to treat respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies.
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