Scanning electron microscope study of the development of the human respiratory acinus.
Plastic corrosion casts were made of lungs from fetuses aged from 19 weeks' gestation to term and of lungs from a child and two adults to study the development of the respiratory acinus. To achieve reliable infusion of the most peripheral airspaces a high viscosity plastic was used that is not known to have been employed previously for corrosion casting of lungs. The casts were examined in the scanning electron microscope and showed the increase both in number and in length of the airways distal to the terminal bronchiole and also the change in shape and complexity of the most peripheral airspaces as the lung matures. The terminal airspaces change from short, simple, tubular endings at 19 weeks' gestation to short, shallow saccules from around 30 weeks' gestation to full term and contrast with the deep cup shaped alveoli in the adult. Measurements of the size of the terminal airspace at various stages of development are presented. This new approach, allowing three dimensional study of the peripheral airspaces of the developing lung, will be useful for investigating the lung pathology of neonates.