Meconium aspiration syndrome: possible pathophysiological mechanisms and future potential therapies

Neonatology. 2015;107(3):225-230. doi: 10.1159/000369373.


Does meconium cause meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) or is meconium discharge only a marker of fetal hypoxia? This dispute has lasted for centuries, but since the 1960s, detrimental effects of meconium itself on the lungs have been demonstrated in animal experiments. In clinical MAS, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn is the leading cause of death in MAS. Regarding the complex chemical composition of meconium, it is difficult to identify a single agent responsible for the pathophysiology. However, considering that meconium is stored in the intestines, partly unexposed to the immune system, aspirated meconium could be recognized as ‘danger', representing damaged self. The common denominator in the pathophysiology could therefore be activation of innate immunity. Thus, a bulk of evidence implies that meconium is a potent activator of inflammatory mediators, including cytokines, complement, prostaglandins and reactive oxygen species. We hypothesize that the two main recognition systems of innate immunity, the Toll-like receptors and the complement system, recognize meconium as ‘danger', which leads not only to lung dysfunction but also to a systemic inflammatory response. This might have therapeutic implications in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complement Activation
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Meconium
  • Meconium Aspiration Syndrome / immunology*
  • Meconium Aspiration Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Meconium Aspiration Syndrome / therapy
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Toll-Like Receptors