Effects of intrauterine infection or inflammation on fetal lung development

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Intrauterine infection or inflammation is common in cases of preterm birth. Preterm infants are at risk of acute respiratory distress as a result of lung immaturity; evidence of exposure to infection and/or inflammation before birth is associated with a reduced risk of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Experimentally induced intrauterine inflammation or infection in sheep causes a precocious increase in pulmonary surfactant in the preterm lungs that improves preterm lung function, consistent with the reduced risk of RDS in human infants exposed to infection and/or inflammation before birth. The effects of intrauterine inflammation on fetal lung development appear to result from direct action of proinflammatory stimuli within the lungs rather than by systemic signals, such as the classical glucocorticoid-mediated lung maturation pathway. However, paracrine and/or autocrine production and/or metabolism of glucocorticoids in fetal lung tissue may occur as a result of inflammation-induced changes in the expression of 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (types 1 and 2). Likely candidates that mediate inflammation-induced surfactant production by the preterm lung include prostaglandin E(2) and/or other arachidonic acid metabolites. Intrauterine inflammation induces the expression of enzymes responsible for prostaglandin production in fetal lung tissue. Inhibition of prostaglandin production prevents, at least in part, the effects of inflammation on fetal lungs. Our experiments are identifying mechanisms of surfactant production by the preterm lungs that may be exploited as novel therapies for preventing respiratory distress in preterm infants. Elucidation of the effects of inflammation on the fetal lungs and other organs will allow more refined approaches to the care of preterm infants exposed to inflammation in utero.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)824 - 830
Number of pages7
JournalClinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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