The insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II), their receptors and binding proteins (IGFBPs) are endogenously expressed in a number of tissues including the lung during fetal and neonatal development. This endogenous autocrine/paracrine IGF 'system', together with endocrine sources, contributes to the regulation of lung cell proliferation. We investigated the expression of the mRNAs encoding IGF-I, IGF-II, the type 1 IGF receptor (IGF-T1R) and two IGF-binding proteins (IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-4) in rat lung during the perinatum. These were compared in lung with surfactant apoprotein A (Sp-A) mRNA levels.
mRNA in extracts of fetal tissues collected between day 17 of gestation (17f) and day 9 after birth (9d) was estimated by Northern blot or RNase protection analysis. At day 20 of gestation IGF-I, IGF-T1R and IGFBP-4 mRNA levels were higher in lung than liver (all P<0·01), whereas IGF-II and IGFBP-2 mRNA levels were higher in liver than lung (each P<0·02). The expression of IGF-I, IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-4 in lung was high before birth (days 17–20f) but decreased to low levels at days 21f, 22f or at birth (1d) but increased in the neonatal lung. IGF-II expression in lung was high at 17f but decreased before birth and remained low after birth. The IGF-T1R was expressed at moderate levels before birth, decreased before birth but peaked at days 2–5 after birth. The decrease in expression of these growth regulators before birth was matched by an increase in Sp-A expression which was clearly seen at day 20f, peaked at 1d and then was maintained at high levels after birth. Primary cell cultures of 18f lung epithelia express IGFBP-2 while fibroblasts from the same animals express only IGFBP-4. Cells grown from 22f lung tissue express IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-4 at lower levels, behaving in vitro as they do in vivo.
The contrasting levels of expression of different components of the IGF system in the fetal lung and liver indicate organ-specific regulation. IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-4 expression in different cell types within lung but with similar temporal changes suggests cell-specific regulation, perhaps by a common agent. The patterns of expression of IGF-I, IGF-T1R, IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-4, but not IGF-II, in developing lung correspond to previously described phasic changes in lung cell proliferation rates. The nadir in expression of these four major components of the lung IGF system occurs in the saccular phase when the lung begins to differentiate, probably under the influence of certain endocrine agents.