Pulmonary surfactant kinetics of the newborn infant: Novel insights from studies with stable isotopes

V. P. Carnielli*, L. J I Zimmermann, A. Hamvas, P. E. Cogo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Deficiency or dysfunction of the pulmonary surfactant plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of respiratory diseases of the newborn. After a short review of the pulmonary surfactant, including its role in selected neonatal respiratory conditions, we describe a series of studies conducted by applying two recently developed methods to measure surfactant kinetics. In the first set of studies, namely ‘endogenous studies’, which used stable isotope-labeled intravenous surfactant precursors, we have shown the feasibility of measuring surfactant synthesis and kinetics in infants using several metabolic precursors, including plasma glucose, plasma fatty acids and body water. In the second set of studies, namely ‘exogenous studies’, which used a stable isotope-labeled phosphatidylcholine (PC) tracer given endotracheally, we estimated the surfactant disaturated phosphatidylcholine (DSPC) pool size and half-life. The major findings of our studies are presented here and can be summarized as follows: (a) the de novo synthesis and turnover rates of the surfactant (DSPC) in preterm infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) are very low with either precursor; (b) in preterm infants with RDS, pool size is very small and half-life much longer than what has been reported in animal studies; (c) patients recovering from RDS who required higher continuous positive airway pressure pressure after extubation or reintubation have a lower level of intrapulmonary surfactant than those who did well after extubation; (d) term newborn infants with pneumonia have greatly accelerated surfactant catabolism; and (e) infants with uncomplicated congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) and on conventional mechanical ventilation have normal surfactant synthesis, but those requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenated (ECMO) do not. Information obtained from these studies in infants will help to better tailor exogenous surfactant treatment in neonatal lung diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S29-S37
JournalJournal of Perinatology
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH)
  • Disaturated phosphatidylcholine (DSPC)
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS)
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
  • Stable isotopes
  • Surfactant kinetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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