Indexed on: 01 Jul '99Published on: 01 Jul '99Published in: American journal of respiratory cell and molecular biology
In utero tracheal occlusion (TO) is a potent stimulus of fetal lung growth, and is currently being applied in clinical trials to treat severe forms of pulmonary hypoplasia. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of timing of TO on pulmonary growth and maturation rates. Fetal rabbits (term = 31 d) were subjected to in utero tracheal clipping at 24 (late pseudoglandular stage) or 27 d of gestation (late canalicular/early terminal sac stage). Sham-operated littermates served as controls (C). Animals were killed at time intervals ranging from 1 to 6 d (early group) or 1 to 3 d (late group) after occlusion. Lung growth was measured by computerized stereologic volumetry and 5'-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) pulse labeling. Pneumocyte II population kinetics were analyzed using a combination of anti-surfactant protein-A and BrdU immunohistochemistry and computer-assisted morphometry. Statistical analysis was performed using unpaired Student's t test. Early TO was followed by an initial 3-d stagnation of growth and subsequently a dramatic acceleration of growth (BrdU-labeling index [LI] 10.1 +/- 0. 6% in TO versus 2.7 +/- 0.5% in C at 29 d, P < 0.001). In contrast, late TO induced an immediate and sustained moderate increase of lung growth (BrdU-LI 2.8 +/- 0.9% in TO versus 1.1 +/- 0.2% in C at 30 d, P < 0.05), associated with relatively more pronounced air-space distension. Whereas late TO caused no significant alterations in type II cell density or proliferation, early TO was followed by a marked increase in type II cell proliferation, paradoxically associated with dramatic reduction of type II cell density after 29 d. The effects of intrauterine TO on fetal lung growth and type II cell kinetics critically depend on the gestational age, and thus on the maturity of the lungs at the time of surgery. These findings have important clinical implications with respect to the timing of fetal interventions aimed at promoting lung growth. The fetal rabbit provides an invaluable model to study the mechanics and age dependency of TO-induced lung growth.