Clearance of different-sized proteins from the alveolar space in humans and rabbits

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1992 Oct;73(4):1310-6. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1992.73.4.1310.


Investigation of the clearance of proteins from the air spaces is important for an understanding of the resolution of pulmonary edema and also because of current interest in delivery of therapeutic peptides via the distal air spaces. Few experimental studies have examined the size dependence for alveolar clearance of large macromolecules; there have been no human studies. In anesthetized rabbits, we measured clearance of cyanocobalamin and different-sized human proteins instilled into the air spaces. After 8 h, the amounts of instilled tracer recovered in the lungs were [57Co]cyanocobalamin, 19.4 +/- 3.0% (Stokes radius 0.65 nm); 125I-labeled insulin, 64.6 +/- 3.9% (1.2 nm); 131I-labeled albumin, 87.0 +/- 4.0% (3.5 nm); and 125I-labeled immunoglobulin G, 91.8 +/- 3.3% (5.5 nm) (P < 0.05). Sieving of different-sized proteins occurred across the alveolar epithelial barrier because tracer concentrations in air space lavage fluid after 8 h were decreased more for the smaller tracers than the larger ones. Size selectivity for alveolar protein clearance in humans with resolving alveolar edema was investigated by measuring the changes in albumin and total protein concentration. The fraction of total protein concentration made up of albumin was greater in the edema fluid than in the plasma initially. The albumin fraction decreased with time in 9 of 10 patients with resolving edema, from 0.62 +/- 0.2 to 0.58 +/- 0.10 (P < 0.05) after 10 +/- 5 h. Thus both rabbit studies and human studies provide evidence for size-dependent clearance of protein from the air spaces of the lung.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / metabolism
  • Anesthesia
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Molecular Weight
  • Proteins / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Edema / metabolism
  • Pulmonary Edema / physiopathology
  • Rabbits
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism


  • Albumins
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Insulin
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Proteins
  • Vitamin B 12