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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 1999 Apr;20(4):805-12.

Ultrastructural evaluation of lung maturation in a sheep model of diaphragmatic hernia and tracheal occlusion.

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  • 1Electron Microscopy Unit, Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital, London, United Kingdom.


In fetuses with diaphragmatic hernia (DH) lung development is impaired, and pulmonary hypoplasia is one of the main factors responsible for the poor outcome of the disease. A possible treatment consists of occluding trachea during lung development to retain pulmonary fluid and to force the lung to expand. Although it appeared promising at first, this technique has recently been reported to decrease type II cell number and to induce surfactant deficiency. The aim of this study was to investigate lung maturation further through ultrastructural examination in a fetal lamb model of DH created at 85 d, followed or not by endoscopic balloon tracheal occlusion (TO) at 120 d of gestation. The proportion of alveolar epithelial type I and type II cells was altered by both treatments: the type I/type II cell ratio, which was about 2 in control lungs, was decreased 4.5-fold in DH lungs but was increased 4.5-fold in DH+TO lungs. The proportion of undifferentiated cells was increased in DH lungs. Indeterminate cells sharing features of type II and type I cells that were not observed in controls were seldom seen in DH lungs and were numerous in DH+TO lungs. The number of lamellar bodies per type II cell was decreased in both DH and DH+TO groups. In DH lungs, wall structure presented an immature appearance, with cellular connective tissue and poor secondary septation of saccules. In DH+TO lungs, primary septa appeared more mature, with reduced connective tissue, but secondary septa were still buds, although elastin was present at their tips. A single capillary layer was found in all three groups (control, DH, and DH+TO) with no sign of septal capillary pairing. This first investigation in DH and DH+TO lungs through transmission electron microscopy thus enabled us to show that compression and forced expansion of the lung are both responsible for alterations in type II cell differentiation and septal development.

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