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Structural and Functional Development of the Respiratory System in a Newborn Marsupial with Cutaneous Gas Exchange


Simpson, SJ and Flecknoe, SJ and Clugston, RD and Greer, JJ and Hooper, SB and Frappell, PB, Structural and Functional Development of the Respiratory System in a Newborn Marsupial with Cutaneous Gas Exchange, Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 84, (6) pp. 634-649. ISSN 1522-2152 (2011) [Refereed Article]

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2011 by The University of Chicago

DOI: doi:10.1086/662557


Marsupials are born with structurally immature lungs and rely, to varying degrees, on cutaneous gas exchange. With a gestation of 13 d and a birth weight of 13 mg, the fat-tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) is one of the smallest and most immature marsupial newborns. We determined that the skin is almost solely responsible for gas exchange in the early neo- natal period. Indeed, fewer than 35% of newborn dunnarts were observed to make any respiratory effort on the day of birth, with pulmonary ventilation alone not meeting the de- mand for oxygen until approximately 35 d postpartum. Despite the lack of pulmonary ventilation, the phrenic nerve had made contact with the diaphragm, and the respiratory epithelium was sufficiently developed to support gas exchange on the day of birth. Both type I and type II (surfactant-producing) alveolar epithelial cells were present, with fewer than 7% of the cells resembling undifferentiated alveolar epithelial precursor cells. The type I epithelial cells did, however, display thickened cy- toplasmic extensions, leading to a high diffusion distance for oxygen. In addition, the architecture of the lung was immature, resembling the early canalicular stage, with alveolarization not commencing until 45 d postpartum. The pulmonary vascula- ture was also immature, with a centrally positioned single- capillary layer not evident until 100 d postbirth. These struc- tural limitations may impede efficient pulmonary gas exchange, forcing the neonatal fat-tailed dunnart to rely predominatelyon its skin, a phenomenon supported by a low metabolic rate and small size.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Biochemistry and cell biology
Research Field:Structural biology (incl. macromolecular modelling)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
Objective Field:Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems
UTAS Author:Simpson, SJ (Ms Shannon Simpson)
UTAS Author:Frappell, PB (Professor Peter Frappell)
ID Code:76092
Year Published:2011
Web of Science® Times Cited:19
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2012-02-27
Last Modified:2017-11-01

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