Pulmonary Surfactant Function is Abolished by an Elevated Proportion of Cholesterol

TitlePulmonary Surfactant Function is Abolished by an Elevated Proportion of Cholesterol
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsGunasekara, L., S. Schurch, W. Schoel, K. Nag, Z. Leonenko, M. Haufs, and M. Amrein
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta: Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids
Start Page27
Date Published09/2005
Keywordsatomic force microscopy, bovine lipid extract surfactant (BLES), captive bubble surfactometer, cholesterol, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC), pulmonary surfactant

A molecular film of pulmonary surfactant strongly reduces the surface tension of the lung epithelium–air interface. Human pulmonary surfactant contains 5–10% cholesterol by mass, among other lipids and surfactant specific proteins. An elevated proportion of cholesterol is found in surfactant, recovered from acutely injured lungs (ALI). The functional role of cholesterol in pulmonary surfactant has remained controversial. Cholesterol is excluded from most pulmonary surfactant replacement formulations, used clinically to treat conditions of surfactant deficiency. This is because cholesterol has been shown in vitro to impair the surface activity of surfactant even at a physiological level. In the current study, the functional role of cholesterol has been re-evaluated using an improved method of evaluating surface activity in vitro, the captive bubble surfactometer (CBS). Cholesterol was added to one of the clinically used therapeutic surfactants, BLES, a bovine lipid extract surfactant, and the surface activity evaluated, including the adsorption rate of the substance to the air–water interface, its ability to produce a surface tension close to zero and the area compression needed to obtain that low surface tension. No differences in the surface activity were found for BLES samples containing either none, 5 or 10% cholesterol by mass with respect to the minimal surface tension. Our findings therefore suggest that the earlier-described deleterious effects of physiological amounts of cholesterol are related to the experimental methodology. However, at 20%, cholesterol effectively abolished surfactant function and a surface tension below 15 mN/m was not obtained. Inhibition of surface activity by cholesterol may therefore partially or fully explain the impaired lung function in the case of ALI. We discuss a molecular mechanism that could explain why cholesterol does not prevent low surface tension of surfactant films at physiological levels but abolishes surfactant function at higher levels.

Refereed DesignationRefereed
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