Earlier work form this laboratory showed that exposure of alveolar epithelial cells (AECs) to meconium caused significant cell detachment and that meconium-induced detachment of cells was prevented by a protease inhibitor cocktail. Therefore, it was hypothesized that protease inhibitors might protect AEC monolayers against meconium-induced collapse of epithelial barrier function both in vitro and in vivo. To investigate this theory in vitro, albumin flux was measured across cultured, confluent monolayers of human type II derived cell line A549 on microporous filter inserts. Human meconium was collected from seven healthy full-term neonates and the samples were pooled and diluted prior to analysis. Exposure of AECs to 5% human meconium increased albumin flux across the cultured AEC monolayers, but the increase was significantly blocked by protease inhibitors (P<0.001). In C57/BL6 mice, intratracheal instillation of 5% human meconium increased the passage of Evans Blue Dye (EBD) from the vascular compartment into the alveolar spaces, measured in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid after intravenous injection of EBD. Moreover, intratrachial coinstillation of protease inhibitors prevented the meconium-induced increase in EBD passage into BAL fluid (P<0.01). The data presented herein clearly demonstrate that protease inhibitors protect AEC barrier function against meconium-induced injury, and suggest the future possibility of using protease inhibitors in the treatment of meconium aspiration syndrome.
Keywords: Alveolar type II cells; Apoptosis; Local angiotensin system; Neonatal lung injury.