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J Pediatr Surg. 1998 Jul;33(7):1030-7.

Temporary tracheal occlusion causes catch-up lung maturation in a fetal model of diaphragmatic hernia.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.



The lungs of infants born with diaphragmatic hernia are hypoplastic, immature, and surfactant-deficient. Tracheal occlusion in utero, which is being proposed as antenatal treatment of diaphragmatic hernia by promoting compensatory lung growth, decreases surfactant production as well, through loss of type II pneumocytes. The authors studied whether temporary tracheal occlusion might cause 'catch-up' lung growth and maturation, without negative effects of prolonged tracheal occlusion on the surfactant system.


Diaphragmatic hernia was created in time-dated fetal lambs (65 to 75 days). At 108 days, the trachea was occluded with an embolectomy catheter (DH + TO, n = 6). After day 14, the balloon was deflated. Six congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) fetuses were left unobstructed (DH). For comparison, a group of fetuses without diaphragmatic hernia were subjected to prolonged tracheal ligation (TL; 4-week tracheal ligation, n = 3). Unoperated littermates (n = 8) were used as controls (CTR). All were killed near term. Lung tissue was processed for light and electron microscopy (computerized stereologic morphometry). Type II pneumocytes were identified with antisurfactant protein B antibody.


Four animals in DH + TO and four in DH survived to term. Lung fluid volume (LFV) at 108 days was 5.2 +/- 4.4 mL in DH and 24.6 +/- 6.8 mL in controls (P < .05, Student t test). In DH + TO, LFV increased ninefold (to 48.3 +/- 13.3 mL) by 1 week postocclusion, suggesting accelerated lung growth. At term, lung weight to body weight ratio (LW/BW) was higher in TL (9.85% +/- 1.81%) than in CTR (3.55% +/- 0.56%; P < .05, analysis of variance); LW/BW and parenchymal volume tended to be greater in DH + TO than in DH, and air-exchanging parenchymal volume in DH + TO was similar to CTR (v a 50% reduction in DH), indicating some degree of hyperplasia after temporary occlusion. Pneumocyte II numerical density was decreased more than 10-fold in TL (60 +/- 22 v 826 +/- 324 in CTR, P < .001; it was slightly lower in DH + TO than in CTR, but individual type II pneumocyte cell volume was greater in the latter, and they appeared more mature than in DH (increased granulation by light microscopy, fewer glycogen granules, and abundant lamellar bodies by electron microscopy). Surfactant was also seen in the air spaces in DH + TO and CTR; it was absent in unobstructed CDH and in TL.


Temporary tracheal occlusion in utero does not cause the dramatic decrease in type II pneumocytes seen after prolonged occlusion. Although only minimal increase in lung volume is seen in CDH, catch-up parenchymal growth and maturation occur, most notably in the surfactant-producing system.

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