Oxygen targeting in preterm infants: a physiological interpretation

J Perinatol. 2015 Jan;35(1):8-15. doi: 10.1038/jp.2014.199. Epub 2014 Oct 30.


Randomized controlled trials evaluating low-target oxygen saturation (SpO2:85% to 89%) vs high-target SpO2 (91% to 95%) have shown variable results regarding mortality and morbidity in extremely preterm infants. Because of the variation inherent to the accuracy of pulse oximeters, the unspecified location of probe placement, the intrinsic relationship between SpO2 and arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2) and between SaO2 and partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2) (differences in oxygen dissociation curves for fetal and adult hemoglobin), the two comparison groups could have been more similar than dissimilar. The SpO2 values were in the target range for a shorter period of time than intended due to practical and methodological constraints. So the studies did not truly compare 'target SpO2 ranges'. In spite of this overlap, some of the studies did find significant differences in mortality prior to discharge, necrotizing enterocolitis and severe retinopathy of prematurity. These differences could potentially be secondary to time spent beyond the target range (SpO2 <85 or >95%) and could be avoided with an intermediate but wider target SpO2 range (87% to 93%). In conclusion, significant uncertainty persists about the desired target range of SpO2 in extremely preterm infants. Further studies should focus on studying newer methods of assessing oxygenation and strategies to limit hypoxemia (<85% SpO2) and hyperoxemia (>95% SpO2).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Low Birth Weight / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Oximetry / methods*
  • Oximetry / standards
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Software


  • Oxygen