Fibronectin (FN), a glycoprotein component of the extracellular matrix, plays a role in tissue morphogenesis and tissue-specific differentiation through its effects on cell adhesion, cell shape, and cytoskeletal organization. Immunohistochemistry has been used to show that during lung development FN deposition changes, yet the cell-specific sites of pulmonary FN synthesis have not been determined. Because cellular FN synthesis is reflected by FN mRNA abundance, we performed in situ hybridizations to identify pulmonary tissue with the capacity to synthesize FN. Both in situ mRNA hybridization and immunohistochemical staining were performed on tissue sections from lungs of adults and late gestation fetal and neonatal rabbits. In adults, FN transcripts and immunostaining were clearly seen in endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and chondrocytes. During lung development, FN transcripts were virtually ubiquitous except in airway epithelium. There was a gradual decrease in FN mRNA abundance with advancing fetal age, but low levels of FN mRNA persisted in neonatal and adult lungs. In contrast, parenchymal immunostaining increased throughout fetal development and remained elevated in the newborn. FN immunostaining was lower in adult lung. In all tissues examined, airway epithelial cells contained no FN transcripts above background. However, immunostaining was detected in airway basement membrane zones and on luminal surfaces of some epithelial cells. The lack of FN transcripts in airway epithelial cells suggests that FN synthesis does not normally occur in this cell type and that its associated FN immunostaining is from another source. The colocalization of FN mRNA and protein in pulmonary endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and chondrocytes in adults strongly suggests that these cells are sites of FN synthesis.
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