Significance of ion transport during lung development and in respiratory disease of the newborn

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Abstract

Active ion transport plays a critical role in the liquid movement across the fetal and perinatal lung epithelium. The fetal lung liquid production is coupled with active secretion of Cl− into the luminal space. The potential for fluid absorbing mechanisms related to active Na+ transport from the apical to the basolateral side of the epithelium appears near the end of gestation. At birth there is a dramatic change of environment with commencement of air-breathing, sudden increase in oxygen partial pressure (PO2) and profound changes in the pulmonary circulation. A concurrent switch from fluid secretion to maintenance of low amounts of alveolar fluid is another major physiological adjustment taking place in the perinatal distal lung epithelium. The fluid-absorbing mechanism is a result of a well-synchronized co-operation between the basolateral membrane Na-K-ATPase and the apical membrane Na+ channels and it promotes salt and water movement from the airspace. Inability of the fetal lung epithelium to switch from fluid secretion to Na+ transport-dependent absorption seems to be an important factor adversely contributing to the respiratory distress of the newborn premature infant.

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