Role of fetal breathing movements in control of fetal lung distension

A. A. Miller, S. B. Hooper, R. Harding

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Our aim was to determine the role of fetal breathing movements (FBM) in the maintenance of fetal lung liquid volume. Experiments were performed in 14 chronically catheterized fetal sheep. FBM were selectively abolished for 48 h by the infusion of tetrodotoxin (TTX) onto the phrenic nerves of five fetuses. Lung liquid volumes and secretion rates were measured before each treatment, 46-48 h after the start of the TTX infusion, and 22-24 h after the end of the infusion. Blockade of the phrenic nerves reduced fetal lung liquid volumes from 27.6 ± 1.9 to 21.8 ± 2.6 ml/kg and increased lung liquid secretion rates from 3.8 ± 0.6 to 6.2 ± 1.1 ml · h-1 · kg-1. Control experiments confirmed the lack of effect of TTX infused intravenously and saline infused intrapleurally on changes in fetal lung liquid volume and secretion rate. To measure the static relaxation volume of the fetal lung, in six fetuses we combined skeletal muscle paralysis with bypass of the upper airway for 48 h. This reduced fetal lung liquid volume from 39.1 ± 3.1 to 23.0 ± 2.5 ml/kg and increased lung liquid secretion rates from 4.1 ± 0.7 to 5.8 ± 0.9 ml · h-1 · kg-1. This experiment demonstrates that the fetal lung is normally maintained at a level of expansion that is much greater than its static relaxation volume. We conclude that the volume of luminal liquid in the fetal lungs is dependent on the diaphragmatic contractions associated with FBM. Their effect is to resist the elastic recoil of the fetal lungs, thereby reducing the loss of liquid from the lungs via the trachea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2711-2717
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1993


  • lung liquid secretion
  • lung liquid volume
  • paralysis
  • phrenic nerve
  • tetrodotoxin

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