The molecular mechanisms by which endothelial cells (ECs) regulate pulmonary vascularization and contribute to alveolar epithelial cell development during lung morphogenesis remain unknown. We tested the hypothesis that delta-like 4 (DLL4), an EC Notch ligand, is critical for alveolarization by combining lung mapping and functional studies in human tissue and DLL4-haploinsufficient mice (Dll4+/lacz). DLL4 expressed in a PECAM-restricted manner in capillaries, arteries, and the alveolar septum from the canalicular to alveolar stage in mice and humans. Dll4 haploinsufficiency resulted in exuberant, nondirectional vascular patterning at E17.5 and P6, followed by smaller capillaries and fewer intermediate blood vessels at P14. Vascular defects coincided with polarization of lung EC expression toward JAG1-NICD-HES1 signature and decreased tip cell-like (Car4) markers. Dll4+/lacZ mice had impaired terminal bronchiole development at the canalicular stage and impaired alveolarization upon lung maturity. We discovered that alveolar type I cell (Aqp5) markers progressively decreased in Dll4+/lacZ mice after birth. Moreover, in human lung EC, DLL4 deficiency programmed a hypersprouting angiogenic phenotype cell autonomously. In conclusion, DLL4 is expressed from the canalicular to alveolar stage in mice and humans, and Dll4 haploinsufficiency programs dysmorphic microvascularization, impairing alveolarization. Our study reveals an obligate role for DLL4-regulated angiogenesis in distal lung morphogenesis.
Sheng Xia, Heather L. Menden, Nick Townley, Sherry M. Mabry, Jeffrey Johnston, Michael F. Nyp, Daniel P. Heruth, Thomas Korfhagen, Venkatesh Sampath