Developmental expression of NOS isoforms in fetal rat lung: Implications for transitional circulation and pulmonary angiogenesis

Chun Xue, Paul R. Reynolds, Roger A. Johns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To better understand the role of nitric oxide (NO) in fetal lung development, specifically in the transition of the fetal circulation at birth, we studied the tinting of cell-specific expression of NO synthase (NOS) isoforms from formation of lung buds (13th day of gestation) to 7 days postnatal. Expression of NOS was studied using immunohistochemical labeling with antibodies against the three known NOS isoforms and the NADPH diaphorase technique (NADPH-d). Endothelial NOS (eNOS) immunoreactivity was found in the cells of the 14-day fetal lung. As gestation proceeded, the quantity of these immunopositive cells increased, and they coalesced to form an inner (endothelial) layer of pulmonary vessels. This process of angiogenesis marked by eNOS-positive cells was seen from 15 days of gestation to at least 7 days postnatal. A majority of the eNOS immunoreactivity appeared densely in one focal spot in the cytoplasm, indicating that during development the eNOS may be primarily located in a cytoplasmic organelle. Epithelial cells of the rat airway from the same developmental period were positively stained with both brain NOS antibody (bNOS) and NADPH-d at the beginning of 13 days of gestation. Then the intensity of stainings began to decrease and reached the lowest level in the 16-day fetal lung. However, the NOS stainings of the epithelium, especially in small canalicular structures of the airways, began to increase at 18 days of gestation and was dramatically elevated at 20 days of gestation (term is 22 days). Postnatally, NOS in epithelium was decreased in distal airways in conjunction with the formation of alveolar structure. Inducible NOS (iNOS) immunoreactivity was also found in the epithelium of rat lung airways after 16 days of gestation. Unlike the bNOS staining, iNOS immunoreactivity exhibited a pattern of a small dot-like staining within epithelial cytoplasm during gestation and the first day postnatal, then changed to a pattern of diffuse cytoplasmic staining by the 7th postnatal day. This study concludes that 1) expression of three isoforms of NOS is present and regulated during lung development; 2) markedly increased NOS in epithelium near term supports a role for NO in mediating the pulmonary transition from fetal to neonatal life; and 3) eNOS immunohistochemistry serves as an effective marker to follow the process of pulmonary angiogenesis and suggests the concept of in situ formation of endothelial vesicles in developing mesenchyme.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L88-L100
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number1 14-1
StatePublished - Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • NA DPH diaphorase
  • angiogenesis
  • endothelium
  • epithelium
  • fetus
  • immunohistochemistry
  • lung development
  • nitric oxide
  • nitric oxide synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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