The respiratory tract is lined by a pseudo-stratified epithelium from the nose to terminal bronchioles. This first line of defense of the lung against external stress includes five main cell types: basal, suprabasal, club, goblet and multiciliated cells, as well as rare cells such as ionocytes, neuroendocrine and tuft/brush cells. At homeostasis, this epithelium self-renews at low rate but is able of fast regeneration upon damage. Airway epithelial cell lineages during regeneration have been investigated in the mouse by genetic labeling, mainly after injuring the epithelium with noxious agents. From these approaches, basal cells have been identified as progenitors of club, goblet and multiciliated cells, but also of ionocytes and neuroendocrine cells. Single-cell RNA sequencing, coupled to lineage inference algorithms, has independently allowed the establishment of comprehensive pictures of cell lineage relationships in both mouse and human. In line with genetic tracing experiments in mouse trachea, studies using single-cell RNA sequencing (RNAseq) have shown that basal cells first differentiate into club cells, which in turn mature into goblet cells or differentiate into multiciliated cells. In the human airway epithelium, single-cell RNAseq has identified novel intermediate populations such as deuterosomal cells, ‘hybrid’ mucous-multiciliated cells and progenitors of rare cells. Novel differentiation dynamics, such as a transition from goblet to multiciliated cells have also been discovered. The future of cell lineage relationships in the respiratory tract now resides in the combination of genetic labeling approaches with single-cell RNAseq to establish, in a definitive manner, the hallmarks of cellular lineages in normal and pathological situations.

You do not currently have access to this content.