The proper size of epithelial tubes is critical for the function of the lung, kidney, vascular system and other organs, but the genetic and cellular mechanisms that control epithelial tube size are unknown. We investigated tube size control in the embryonic and larval tracheal (respiratory) system of Drosophila. A morphometric analysis showed that primary tracheal branches have characteristic sizes that undergo programmed changes during development. Branches grow at different rates and their diameters and lengths are regulated independently: tube length increases gradually throughout development, whereas tube diameter increases abruptly at discrete times in development. Cellular analysis and manipulation of tracheal cell number using cell-cycle mutations demonstrated that tube size is not dictated by the specific number or shape of the tracheal cells that constitute it. Rather, tube size appears to be controlled by coordinately regulating the apical (lumenal) surface of tracheal cells. Genetic analysis showed that tube sizes are specified early by branch identity genes, and the subsequent enlargement of branches to their mature sizes and maintenance of the expanded tubes involves a new set of genes described here, which we call tube expansion genes. This work establishes a genetic system for investigating tube size regulation, and provides an outline of the genetic program and cellular events underlying tracheal tube size control.

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