Maternal alcohol ingestion reduces surfactant protein A expression by preterm fetal lung epithelia

Alcohol. 2007 Aug;41(5):347-55. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2007.07.006.


In addition to neurodevelopmental effects, alcohol consumption at high levels during pregnancy is associated with immunomodulation and premature birth. Premature birth, in turn, is associated with increased susceptibility to various infectious agents such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The initial line of pulmonary innate defense includes the mucociliary apparatus, which expels microorganisms trapped within the airway secretions. Surfactant proteins A and D (SP-A and SP-D, respectively) are additional components of pulmonary innate immunity and have an important role in pulmonary defense against inhaled pathogens. The purpose of this study was to determine if chronic alcohol consumption during the third trimester of pregnancy alters the function of the mucociliary apparatus and expression of SP-A and SP-D of fetal lung epithelia. Sixteen, date-mated ewes were assigned to two different groups; an ethanol-exposed group in which ewes received ethanol through surgically implanted intra-abomasal cannula during the third trimester of pregnancy, and a control group in which ewes received the equivalent amount of water instead of ethanol. Within these two groups, ewes were further randomly assigned to a full-term group in which the lambs were naturally delivered, and a preterm group in which the lambs were delivered prematurely via an abdominal incision and uterotomy. Ethanol was administered five times a week as a 40% solution at 1g/kg of body weight. The mean maternal serum alcohol concentration measured 6h postadministration was 16.3+/-4.36 mg/dl. Tracheas from six full-term lambs were collected to assess ciliary beat frequency (CBF). The lung tissue from all (24) lambs was collected for immunohistochemistry analysis of SP-A and SP-D protein production and fluorogenic real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis of SP-A and SP-D mRNA levels. Exposure to ethanol during pregnancy significantly blocked stimulated increase in CBF through ethanol-mediated desensitization of cAMP-dependent protein kinase. In addition, preterm born/ethanol-exposed lambs showed significantly decreased SP-A mRNA expression when compared with the preterm born/control group (P=.004); no significant changes were seen with SP-D. The full-term/ethanol-exposed lambs had no significant alterations in mRNA levels, but had significantly less detectable SP-A protein when compared with the full-term/control lambs (P=.02). These findings suggest that chronic maternal ethanol consumption during the third trimester of pregnancy alters innate immune gene expression in fetal lung. These alterations may underlie increased susceptibility of preterm infants, exposed to ethanol in utero, to RSV and other microbial agents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / toxicity*
  • Down-Regulation
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / embryology
  • Lung / immunology
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Mucociliary Clearance / drug effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / immunology
  • Premature Birth / metabolism*
  • Premature Birth / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein A / genetics
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein A / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein D / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Respiratory Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / embryology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / immunology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism
  • Respiratory Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Sheep


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein A
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein D
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Ethanol