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Sculpting Airways

Plasticity in smooth muscle differentiation enables lung development without contractile smooth muscle

08 August 2022

Sculpting Airways

There are many things in life we take for granted and do without thinking. One of those is breathing, and we have smooth muscle in part to thank for that. Smooth muscle in the lungs helps to maintain the diameter of their branched structures and manage the airflow in and out. But what about its role in creating these branching structures – highlighted here in green, with smooth muscle protein actin in magenta – during development? Serum response factor (SRF) is a protein involved in switching on genes associated with smooth muscle. When researchers deleted that protein from a mouse embryonic lung, the branching of the airways wasn’t affected but the marker characteristic of contractile smooth muscle, smooth muscle actin was lost. Rather than this indicating a loss of smooth muscle, the team found that without SRF, smooth muscle is of synthetic/proliferative not contractile type. And the developing airway still has the necessary support to form branches.

Written by Sophie Arthur

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