• Open Access

Role of Lung Surfactant in Respiratory Disease: Current Knowledge in Large Animal Medicine


Corresponding author: Undine Christmann, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Duck Pond Drive, Phase II, Blacksburg, VA 24061; e-mail: chrisun@vt.edu.


Lung surfactant is produced by type II alveolar cells as a mixture of phospholipids, surfactant proteins, and neutral lipids. Surfactant lowers alveolar surface tension and is crucial for the prevention of alveolar collapse. In addition, surfactant contributes to smaller airway patency and improves mucociliary clearance. Surfactant-specific proteins are part of the innate immune defense mechanisms of the lung. Lung surfactant alterations have been described in a number of respiratory diseases. Surfactant deficiency (quantitative deficit of surfactant) in premature animals causes neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. Surfactant dysfunction (qualitative changes in surfactant) has been implicated in the pathophysiology of acute respiratory distress syndrome and asthma. Analysis of surfactant from amniotic fluid allows assessment of fetal lung maturity (FLM) in the human fetus and exogenous surfactant replacement therapy is part of the standard care in premature human infants. In contrast to human medicine, use and success of FLM testing or surfactant replacement therapy remain limited in veterinary medicine. Lung surfactant has been studied in large animal models of human disease. However, only a few reports exist on lung surfactant alterations in naturally occurring respiratory disease in large animals. This article gives a general review on the role of lung surfactant in respiratory disease followed by an overview of our current knowledge on surfactant in large animal veterinary medicine.