BACKGROUND: Failure to attain peak lung function by early adulthood is a risk factor for chronic lung diseases. Previously, we reported that C3H/HeJ mice have about twice total lung capacity (TLC) compared to JF1/MsJ mice. We identified seven lung function quantitative trait loci (QTL: Lfnq1-Lfnq7) in backcross/intercross mice derived from these inbred strains. We further demonstrated, superoxide dismutase 3, extracellular (Sod3), Kit oncogene (Kit) and secreted phosphoprotein 1 (Spp1) located on these Lfnqs as lung function determinants. Emanating from the concept of early origin of lung disease, we sought to identify novel candidate genes for pulmonary function by investigating lung transcriptome in C3H/HeJ and JF1/MsJ mice at the completion of embryonic development, bulk alveolar formation and maturity. METHODS: Design-based stereological analysis was performed to study lung structure in C3H/HeJ and JF1/MsJ mice. Microarray was used for lung transcriptomic analysis [embryonic day 18, postnatal days 28, 70]. Quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR), western blot and immunohistochemical analysis were used to confirm selected differences. RESULTS: Stereological analysis revealed decreased alveolar number density, elastin to collagen ratio and increased mean alveolar volume in C3H/HeJ mice compared to JF1/MsJ. Gene ontology term "extracellular region" was enriched among the decreased JF1/MsJ transcripts. Candidate genes identified using the expression-QTL strategy include: ATP-binding cassette, sub-family G (WHITE), member 1 (Abcg1), formyl peptide receptor 1 (Fpr1), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) B receptor, 1 (Gabbr1); histocompatibility 2 genes: class II antigen E beta (H2-Eb1), D region locus 1 (H2-D1), and Q region locus 4 (H2-Q4); leucine rich repeat containing 6 (testis) (Lrrc6), radial spoke head 1 homolog (Rsph1), and surfactant associated 2 (Sfta2). Noteworthy genes selected as candidates for their consistent expression include: Wnt inhibitor factor 1 (Wif1), follistatin (Fst), chitinase-like 1 (Chil1), and Chil3. CONCLUSIONS: Comparison of late embryonic, adolescent and adult lung transcript profiles between mouse strains with extreme TLCs lead to the identification of candidate genes for pulmonary function that has not been reported earlier. Further mechanistic investigations are warranted to elucidate their mode of action in determining lung function.