Amidst the extraordinarily dense network of pathways in a mammal lung is a common destination. There, any road leads to a cul-de-sac of sorts called the pulmonary acinus. This place looks like a bunch of grapes attached to a stem. Scientists have struggled to understand more specifically what happens in this microscopic, labyrinthine intersection of alleys and dead ends. To find out, a research team led by the University of Iowa created the most detailed, three-dimensional rendering of the pulmonary acinus. The computerized model, derived from mice, faithfully mimics each twist and turn in this region, including the length, direction and angles of the respiratory branches that lead to the all-important air sacs called alveoli. The model is important, because it can help scientists understand where and how lung diseases emerge as well as the role the pulmonary acinus plays in the delivery of drugs, such as those commonly administered with inhalers.
Image credit: Dragos Vasilescu, University of Iowa and the University of British Columbia