Basal cells (BCs) are p63-expressing multipotent progenitors of skin, tracheoesophageal and urinary tracts. p63 is abundant in developing airways; however, it remains largely unclear how embryonic p63+ cells contribute to the developing and postnatal respiratory tract epithelium, and ultimately how they relate to adult BCs. Using lineage-tracing and functional approaches in vivo, we show that p63+ cells arising from the lung primordium are initially multipotent progenitors of airway and alveolar lineages but later become restricted proximally to generate the tracheal adult stem cell pool. In intrapulmonary airways, these cells are maintained immature to adulthood in bronchi, establishing a rare p63+Krt5- progenitor cell population that responds to H1N1 virus-induced severe injury. Intriguingly, this pool includes a CC10 lineage-labeled p63+Krt5- cell subpopulation required for a full H1N1-response. These data elucidate key aspects in the establishment of regionally distinct adult stem cell pools in the respiratory system, potentially with relevance to other organs.
The embryonic mouse lung is a widely used substitute for human lung development. For example, attempts to differentiate human pluripotent stem cells to lung epithelium rely on passing through progenitor states that have only been described in mouse. The tip epithelium of the branching mouse lung is a multipotent progenitor pool that self-renews and produces differentiating descendants. We hypothesized that the human distal tip epithelium is an analogous progenitor population and tested this by examining morphology, gene expression and in vitro self-renewal and differentiation capacity of human tips. These experiments confirm that human and mouse tips are analogous and identify signalling pathways that are sufficient for long-term self-renewal of human tips as differentiation-competent organoids. Moreover, we identify mouse-human differences, including markers that define progenitor states and signalling requirements for long-term self-renewal. Our organoid system provides a genetically-tractable tool that will allow these human-specific features of lung development to be investigated.