Influence of intrauterine growth restriction on airway development in fetal and postnatal sheep

Pediatr Res. 2002 Jun;51(6):681-8. doi: 10.1203/00006450-200206000-00004.


Epidemiologic studies suggest that intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) can lead to impaired lung function, yet little information exists on the effects of IUGR on airway development. Our objectives were to characterize morphometrically effects of IUGR on airway structure in the fetus and to determine whether alterations persist into postnatal life. We used two groups of sheep, each with appropriate controls; a fetal group was subjected to IUGR by restriction of placental function from 120 to 140 d (term approximately 147 d), and a postnatal group, killed 8 wk after birth, was subjected to IUGR from 120 d to birth at term. In both fetuses and postnatal lambs, IUGR did not alter lung weight relative to body weight. In IUGR fetuses, the luminal areas and basement membrane perimeters of the trachea and larger bronchi (generations 0-8, trachea = 0) were smaller than in controls. Airway wall areas, relative to basement membrane perimeters, were reduced in IUGR fetuses compared with controls, largely due to reduced areas of cartilage and epithelium. At 8 wk after birth, there were no significant differences in airway dimensions between IUGR and control lambs. However, the number of profiles of bronchial submucosal glands, relative to basement membrane perimeters, was lower in IUGR lambs than in controls and the area of epithelial mucin was increased. We conclude that restriction of fetal growth during late gestation impairs the growth of bronchial walls that could affect airway compliance in the immediate postnatal period. Although airway growth deficits are reversed by 8 wk, alterations in mucus elements persist.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bronchi / embryology*
  • Bronchi / growth & development
  • Bronchi / pathology*
  • Embolism / pathology
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / pathology*
  • Organ Size
  • Placenta / blood supply
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Mucosa / embryology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / growth & development
  • Respiratory Mucosa / pathology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / pathology
  • Sheep
  • Trachea / embryology*
  • Trachea / growth & development
  • Trachea / pathology*