Julie Lee, Andreas Fønss Møller, Shinhyeok Chae, Alexandra Bussek, Tae Joo Park, Youni Kim, Hyun-Shik Lee, Tune H. Pers, Taejoon Kwon, Jakub Sedzinski, Kedar Nath Natarajan
The specialized cell-types of the mucociliary epithelium (MCE) lining the respiratory tract enable continuous airway clearing, with its defects leading to chronic respiratory diseases. The molecular mechanisms driving cell-fate acquisition and temporal specialization during mucociliary epithelial development remain largely unknown. Here, we profile the developing Xenopus MCE from pluripotent to mature stages by single-cell transcriptomics, identifying novel, multipotent early epithelial progenitors that execute multi-lineage cues before specialising into late-stage ionocytes, goblet and basal cells. Combining in silico lineage inference, in situ hybridization and single-cell multiplexed RNA imaging, we capture the initial bifurcation into early epithelial and multiciliated progenitors, chart cell- type emergence and fate progression into specialized cell-types. Comparative analysis of nine airway atlases reveals an evolutionary conserved transcriptional module in ciliated cells, whereas secretory and basal types execute distinct function-specific programmes across vertebrates. We uncover a continuous non-hierarchical model of MCE development alongside a significant data resource for understanding respiratory biology.