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Translating Basic Research Into Clinical Practice |

Surfactant in Airway Disease*

Goran Enhorning, MD, PhD
Author and Funding Information

*From the Department Gynecology and Obstetrics, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.

Correspondence to: Goran Enhorning, MD, PhD, SUNY at Buffalo, Departments of Gynecology/Obstetrics, and Physiology, 219 Bryant St, Buffalo, NY 14222; e-mail: gee1@buffalo.edu



Chest. 2008;133(4):975-980. doi:10.1378/chest.07-2404
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β2-adrenergic agonists cause a release of pulmonary surfactant into lung airways. The surfactant phospholipids maintain the patency of the conducting airways, but this function is inhibited by plasma proteins entering an inflamed airway. The physical behavior of the surfactant can be studied with a pulsating bubble surfactometer and a capillary surfactometer. Calf lung surfactant extract was found to be inhibited by plasma proteins and by a lowering of temperature. Severe breathing difficulties and malfunctioning surfactant developed in BALB/c mice inhaling ozone or infected with respiratory syncytial virus, mainly as a result of proteins invading the airways. Patients with asthma were challenged with allergens in an area of one lung. BAL fluid (BALF) from such an area contained a surfactant that functioned poorly (ie, an inability to maintain airway openness) compared with BALF from the other lung or from the lungs of healthy volunteers. When proteins in the BALF were removed, surfactant performance clearly improved. Eosinophils, so prominent in asthmatic patients, synthesize the enzyme lysophospholipase, which, together with the enzyme phospholipase A2, catalyzes the hydrolysis of the main component of the surfactant, phosphatidylcholine. Such hydrolysis incapacitates the ability of the surfactant to maintain airway patency. The treatment of asthma with β2-adrenergic agonists and steroids will have a valuable effect on the surfactant system. It will cause a release of fresh surfactant into terminal airways. Surfactant can also be nebulized and inhaled, which has been shown to be an effective treatment.

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