New protein is essential for lung development

St. Louis, May 17, 2001 A recently discovered protein appears essential for lung development. Mice unable to make a protein called fibroblast growth factor 9 (Fgf9) die at birth with underdeveloped lungs, researchers have found. They suggest that Fgf9 controls lung size and shape.

"We believe Fgf9 tells the lungs how big to grow," says David M. Ornitz, M.D., Ph.D. "And we suspect it might be involved in some lung diseases ranging from cancer to fibrosis. Blocking Fgf9 may in the future be used to treat those conditions."

Ornitz, professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, led the study. The first author was Jennifer S. Colvin, Ph.D., a student in the schools M.D./Ph.D. program. The results, to be published in the June issue of the journal Development, will appear on the journals website May 17.

Fibroblast growth factors regulate cell growth and migration and therefore are integral to organ development. Because Fgf9 was discovered only recently its role in development is unclear. The School of Medicine team developed a strain of mice lacking the gene for Fgf9 to determine how the proteins absence affects organ development.

The mice had one chromosome lacking the gene and a normal partner chromosome. When mated with each other, they had offspring with two normal genes for Fgf9, offspring with one normal and one defective gene, and offspring with two defective genes. The latter were unable to make Fgf9.

Of 138 offspring, nine died at birth with severely underdeveloped lungs. All nine lacked Fgf9. The surviving mice had either one or two copies of the normal gene for Fgf9. Eight embryos lacking Fgf9 were removed from their mothers before birth. At first, seven were breathing and had healthy, pink skin. But within 30 minutes, all seven had difficulty breathing and their skin turned blue. The researchers concluded that mice lacking Fgf9 survive embryonic development but die after birth

Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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