During fetal development of the sheep lung, elastin content continually increases. For examination of the processes controlling this elastin accumulation, an explant culture system was characterized with respect to changes in tropoelastin production in sheep lung during fetal and early postnatal development. Relative tropoelastin production in cultured lung explants, quantitated by immunoprecipitation, was about 0.3% of total [14C]valine incorporation during the period from 55 to 104 days after conception. This percentage began to increase by 112 days after conception, reached a maximum value of about 1.0% by 135 days after conception, and then declined to 0.5% soon after birth. The absolute rate of tropoelastin production paralleled these changes in relative tropoelastin production. For evaluation of the processes controlling tropoelastin production in the developing sheep lung, total cellular RNA prepared from 68-day-old fetal, 107-day-old fetal, and 147-day-old fetal lung was translated in a rabbit reticulocyte lysate system. Elastin mRNA activity, expressed as the amount of elastin precursor translated per microgram of DNA, increased about 3-fold during fetal lung development, and elastin precursor synthesis, expressed as a proportion of total translational activity, increased in parallel. It appears, therefore, that elastin production in developing fetal lung is modulated, at least in part, by the amount of available translatable elastin mRNA present in the tissue.
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