FGF18 promotes human lung branching morphogenesis through regulating mesenchymal progenitor cells.
Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling is known to play an important role in lung development. Our group recently demonstrated divergent effects in the role of certain FGF between mouse and human lung development. In this study, we identified FGF18, as an important FGF in human lung development. It favors branching and regulates multiple cellular and molecular events required for the maintenance of epithelial and mesenchymal progenitor cell pools, necessary for proper lung development.
Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling is known to play an important role in lung organogenesis. However, we recently demonstrated that FGF10 fails to induce branching in human fetal lungs as is observed in mouse. Our previous human fetal lung RNA sequencing data exhibited increased FGF18 during the pseudoglandular stage of development, suggestive of its importance in human lung branching morphogenesis. Whereas it has been previously reported that FGF18 is critical during alveologenesis, few studies have described its implication in lung branching, specifically in human. Therefore, we aimed to determine the role of FGF18 in human lung branching morphogenesis. Human fetal lung explants within the pseudoglandular stage of development were treated with recombinant human FGF18 in air-liquid interface culture. Explants were analyzed grossly to assess differences in branching pattern, as well as at the cellular and molecular levels. FGF18 treatment promoted branching in explant cultures and demonstrated increased epithelial proliferation as well as maintenance of the double positive SOX2/SOX9 distal bud progenitor cells, confirming its role in human lung branching morphogenesis. In addition, FGF18 treated explants displayed increased expression of SOX9, FN1, and COL2A1 within the mesenchyme, all factors that are important to chondrocyte differentiation. In humans, cartilaginous airways extend deep into the lung up to the 12th generation of branching whereas in mouse these are restricted to the trachea and main bronchi. Therefore, our data suggest that FGF18 promotes human lung branching morphogenesis through regulating mesenchymal progenitor cells.