The compromised intra-uterine environment: Implications for future lung health

R. Harding, M. L. Cock, S. Louey, B. J. Joyce, M. G. Davey, C. A. Albuquerque, S. B. Hooper, G. S. Maritz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


1. Epidemiological studies of infants, children and adults indicate that prenatal compromises that restrict fetal growth and cause low birthweight increase the risk of respiratory deficiencies after birth. 2. It is apparent that the lung has a limited ability to recover from early developmental compromises and that altered development can permanently impair lung architecture. 3. Lung development in utero can be adversely affected by factors associated with fetal growth restriction, namely fetal hypoxaemia, reduced substrate supply and hypercortisolaemia. 4. We have conducted a series of studies of respiratory development in chronically catheterized ovine fetuses and postnatal lambs in which growth restriction was induced during late gestation by embolizing the umbilico-placental vascular bed, a technique that replicates key aspects of human placental insufficiency. 5. During late gestation, restricting the growth of the ovine fetus did not alter lung weight or lung liquid secretion or volume when each factor was related to bodyweight, but it did lead to increased lung DNA concentrations and an increased thickness of the air-blood barrier. Expression of pulmonary surfactant proteins A, B and C were not altered and, hence, it was unlikely that surfactant protein synthesis had been impaired by growth restriction. 6. When growth restriction continued to term, lambs were born with a low birthweight and remained small compared with controls for 8 weeks after birth. Low-birthweight lambs were mildy hypoxaemic and compliances of their lungs and chest wall were, respectively, decreased and increased relative to controls. Pulmonary surfactant proteins A, B and C were not deficient, indicating that decreased lung compliance most likely had a structural basis. 7. Morphometric analysis of lungs at 18 weeks after birth indicated that low-birthweight lambs had increased alveolar wall thicknesses, less 'air-space' and thicker blood-air barriers. These properties would be expected to restrict pulmonary gas exchange and decrease pulmonary compliance. 8. We conclude that growth restriction during early development can have lasting adverse effects on the lungs and chest wall and that these may be sufficient to effect respiratory function throughout later life as well as advancing ageing of the lungs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-974
Number of pages10
JournalClinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Fetus
  • Growth restriction
  • Hypoxia
  • Lungs
  • Placental insufficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology (medical)


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