The morphology of the lung of the African lungfish, Protopterus aethiopicus
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The lung of the African lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus) is paired, long and cylindrical. It is situated on the dorsal aspect of the coelomic cavity ventral to the ribs. Much of the gas exchange tissue is found in the proximal aspect of the lung with the caudal part largely taken up by a centrally situated air-duct with a few large peripherally located alveoli. Interalveolar septa, arranged at differing hierarchical levels from the air-duct, subdivide the lung into alveoli, the gas exchange compartments. The alveolar surface is covered by some cells characterized by microvilli on their free surface, while others are devoid of such structures. The general organization of the lung of Protopterus aethiopicus is similar to that of the other genera of Dipnoi, Neoceratodus and Lepidosiren, with the interalveolar septa increasing the surface area for gas exchange through pulmonary compartmentation. The abundant septal smooth muscle fibres and elastic tissue may contribute to the physiomechanical compliance of the lung. The undifferentiated alveolar pneumocytes and the double capillary system, observed in Protopterus, in general appear to characterize the very primitive lungs of the lower air-breathing vertebrates.