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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1998 Nov 19;1408(2-3):90-108.

The role of lipids in pulmonary surfactant.

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Lawson Research Institute and Departments of Medicine and Physiology, University of Western Ontario, St. Joseph's Health Centre, London, ON N6A 4V2, Canada.


Pulmonary surfactant is composed of approx. 90% lipids and 10% protein. This review article focusses on the lipid components of surfactant. The first sections will describe the lipid composition of mammalian surfactant and the techniques that have been utilized to study the involvement of these lipids in reducing the surface tension at an air-liquid interface, the main function of pulmonary surfactant. Subsequently, the roles of specific lipids in surfactant will be discussed. For the two main surfactant phospholipids, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol, specific contributions to the overall surface tension reducing properties of surfactant have been indicated. In contrast, the role of the minor phospholipid components and the neutral lipid fraction of surfactant is less clear and requires further study. Recent technical advances, such as fluorescent microscopic techniques, hold great potential for expanding our knowledge of how surfactant lipids, including some of the minor components, function. Interesting information regarding surfactant lipids has also been obtained in studies evaluating the surfactant system in non-mammalian species. In certain non-mammalian species (and at least one marsupial), surfactant lipid composition, most notably disaturated phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol, changes drastically under different conditions such as an alteration in body temperature. The impact of these changes on surfactant function provide insight into the function of these lipids, not only in non-mammalian lungs but also in the surfactant from mammalian species.

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