Phase contrast imaging reveals low lung volumes and surface areas in the developing marsupial

Shannon J Simpson, Karen Kit Wan Siu, Naoto Yagi, Jane Whitley, Robert Lewis, Peter B Frappell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Marsupials are born with immature lungs when compared to eutherian mammals and rely, to various extents, on cutaneous gas exchange in order to meet metabolic requirements. Indeed, the fat-tailed dunnart is born with lungs in the canalicular stage of development and relies almost entirely on the skin for gas exchange at birth; consequently undergoing the majority of lung development in air. Plane radiographs and computed tomography data sets were acquired using phase contrast imaging with a synchrotron radiation source for two marsupial species, the fat-tailed dunnart and the larger tammar wallaby, during the first weeks of postnatal life. Phase contrast imaging revealed that only two lung sacs contain air after the first hour of life in the fat-tailed dunnart. While the lung of the tammar wallaby was comparatively more developed, both species demonstrated massive increases in air sac number and architectural complexity during the postnatal period. In addition, both the tammar wallaby and fat-tailed dunnart had lower lung volumes and parenchymal surface areas than were expected from morphometrically determined allometric equations relating these variables to body mass during the neonatal period. However, lung volume is predicted to scale with mass as expected after the neonatal marsupial reaches a body mass of 1 g and no longer relies on the skin for gas exchange. Decreased lung volume in the marsupial neonate further supports the maxim that cutaneous gas exchange occurs in the marsupial neonate because the respiratory apparatus is not yet capable of meeting the gas exchange requirements of the newborn.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere53805
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Cite this