Expression and activity of epidermal growth factor receptor in late fetal rat lung is cell- and sex-specific

Dennis A. Rosenblum, Mary Ann V. Volpe, Christiane E.L. Dammann, Yun Sen Lo, John F. Thompson, Heber C. Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Epidermal growth factor (EGF) augments late fetal lung maturation by advancing the ontogeny of fetal lung development and by stimulating surfactant synthesis. Previous studies have indicated that fibroblast- alveolar epithelial cell communications mediate surfactant synthesis in the fetal lung and EGF acts through such a mechanism. We investigated the hypothesis that differential activity and expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R) in fetal lung fibroblasts during the canalicular stage of lung development mediates EGF effects. To test this hypothesis, we examined fetal rat lung fibroblasts (FLFs) and type II cells of late gestation (canalicular and saccular stages; 17-22 days) by EGF-R binding techniques, SDS-PAGE, and Western blot analysis. Specific EGF binding increased 181% in day 18 female FLFs, with male FLFs exhibiting a similar increase on day 19. In contrast, specific EGF binding was low in type II cells, did not increase during late gestation, and there were no sex-specific differences. SDS-PAGE and Western blot analysis revealed a predominant 170kDa EGF-R band in fibroblasts that increased with gestation (peak = 19 days), and was stronger in females. Immunoprecipitation of EGF-treated cells demonstrated the tyrosine kinase activity of the identified receptor. In contrast, type II cells showed minimal signal that did not increase until day 21 of gestation. We also examined whole fetal lung sections by immunohistochemistry to determine cell-specific expression of the EGF-R in vivo. Immunohistochemistry revealed specific EGF-R staining in columnar and cuboidal epithelia of small conducting airways and in mesenchyme of epithelial-mesenchymal borders (including subepithelial mesenchyme). In contrast, alveolar epithelia showed minimal staining, while subalveolar mesenchyme EGF-R staining peaked at day 19 of gestation. We conclude that cell-specific and sex-specific differences in EGF-R binding and EGF-R immunolocalization appears in the fetal lung at a developmental stage that is critical for alveolar epithelial cell differentiation. The results suggest a role for EGF-R activation in late fetal alveolar epithelial cell maturation, which is mediated through mesenchymal-epithelial cell communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 25 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell-cell communication
  • Epidermal growth factor
  • Epidermal growth factor receptor
  • Infant
  • Premature
  • Pulmonary surfactant
  • Type II cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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