• lateral branching;
  • inhibitory morphogen;
  • patterning;
  • allometry;
  • morphodynamics


Background: Branching morphogenesis generates a diverse array of epithelial patterns, including dichotomous and monopodial geometries. Dichotomous branching can be instructed by concentration gradients of epithelial-derived inhibitory morphogens, including transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ), which is responsible for ramification of the pubertal mammary gland. Here, we investigated the role of autocrine inhibitory morphogens in monopodial branching morphogenesis of the embryonic chicken lung. Results: Computational modeling and experiments using cultured organ explants each separately revealed that monopodial branching patterns cannot be specified by a single epithelial-derived autocrine morphogen gradient. Instead, signaling by means of TGFβ1 and bone morphogenetic protein-4 (BMP4) differentially affect the rates of branching and growth of the airways. Allometric analysis revealed that development of the epithelial tree obeys power-law dynamics; TGFβ1 and BMP4 have distinct but reversible effects on the scaling coefficient of the power law. Conclusions: These data suggest that although autocrine inhibition cannot specify monopodial branching, inhibitory morphogens define the dynamics of lung morphogenesis. Developmental Dynamics 241:852–862, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.