Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Growing Branches

Pinpointing signals controlling the position and direction of branching in the developing lung

21 November 2022

Growing Branches

Our lungs are structured like extreme broccoli. Branches of increasing intricacy break out from central stems to create a precise clustered shape. How this impossibly dense formation takes shape is not well understood, and knowing more could help pinpoint how missteps during branch formation causes disease. A study looked at the role of a sequence of molecular signals, called the Wnt signalling pathway, in interactions between lung lining cells and connective tissue. They discovered that part of the process, the Wnt5a signal, is essential in both types of cell to the position and direction of lung branching. The signal causes changes in cells’ internal skeleton, the cytoskeleton, and in their adhesion to other cells and structures. The physical forces that the pathway controls leads to coordinated shifts in the shape and orientation of lining and connective tissue cells, steering the development of branching (shown here in dissected mouse embryo lungs).

Written by Anthony Lewis

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