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Med Hypotheses. 1995 Jun;44(6):431-4.

A novel role for surfactant in the lung with implications for the sudden infant death syndrome.

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Paediatric Respiratory Research Centre, Mater Children's Hospital, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Feedback from mechanoreceptors in the lungs to the brainstem has long been known to be vital for control of rhythmogenesis during normal breathing. Action potentials transmitted via the vagi are shown to display an irreversible relationship with respect to lung area (A), i.e. hysteresis, which closely resembles the hysteresis in surface tension (gamma) versus A for normal surfactant which coats that surface. Since lung recoil is largely determined by surface tension for resting tidal volumes, this will dominate the stretch of mechanoreceptors. Hence, it is postulated that, through the Hering-Breuer reflex, surfactant largely determines afferent neural feedback, explaining the above similarity in clockwise hysteresis loops. Thus the ability of normal surfactant to impart normal clockwise gamma: A hysteresis is seen as a desirable property enabling the brainstem to differentiate between the inspiratory and expiratory phases of the breathing cycle at the same lung volume. It is further hypothesized that the very abnormal surfactant found recently in some infants with prolonged expiratory apnoea by displaying anti-clockwise gamma: A loops would render afferent neural feedback to the brainstem highly confusing and could cause prolonged expiratory apnoea. This concept is discussed as a possible cause of sleep apnoea, recurrent cyanotic episodes and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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