Functional respiratory morphology in the newborn quokka wallaby (Setonix brachyurus)
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A morphological and morphometric study of the lung of the newborn quokka wallaby ( Setonix brachyurus ) was undertaken to assess its morphofunctional status at birth. Additionally, skin structure and morphometry were investigated to assess the possibility of cutaneous gas exchange. The lung was at canalicular stage and comprised a few conducting airways and a parenchyma of thick-walled tubules lined by stretches of cuboidal pneumocytes alternating with squamous epithelium, with occasional portions of thin blood–gas barrier. The tubules were separated by abundant intertubular mesenchyme, aggregations of developing capillaries and mesenchymal cells. Conversion of the cuboidal pneumocytes to type I cells occurred through cell broadening and lamellar body extrusion. Superfluous cuboidal cells were lost through apoptosis and subsequent clearance by alveolar macrophages. The establishment of the thin blood–gas barrier was established through apposition of the incipient capillaries to the formative thin squamous epithelium. The absolute volume of the lung was 0.02 ± 0.001 cm 3 with an air space surface area of 4.85 ± 0.43 cm 2 . Differentiated type I pneumocytes covered 78% of the tubular surface, the rest 22% going to long stretches of type II cells, their precursors or low cuboidal transitory cells with sparse lamellar bodies. The body weight-related diffusion capacity was 2.52 ± 0.56 mL O 2 min –1 kg –1 . The epidermis was poorly developed, and measured 29.97 ± 4.88 μ m in thickness, 13% of which was taken by a thin layer of stratum corneum, measuring 4.87 ± 0.98 μ m thick. Superficial capillaries were closely associated with the epidermis, showing the possibility that the skin also participated in some gaseous exchange. Qualitatively, the neonate quokka lung had the basic constituents for gas exchange but was quantitatively inadequate, implying the significance of percutaneous gas exchange.