Abnormal development of the lung in congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) results in a dysfunctional surfactant system. In premature newborns at risk for respiratory distress syndrome, amniotic fluid lecithin/sphingomyelin (L/S) ratios and phosphatidylglycerol (PG) status have been successfully used to predict the surfactant status in the fetus. The objective of this study was to assess the accuracy of L/S ratios and PG in predicting the surfactant status in CDH. The surgically created lamb CDH model was used. Animals were delivered at 140 days' gestation (term 145) and immediately killed. Before delivery amniotic fluid was collected and L/S ratios and PG status were measured. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) was performed and analyzed for total phospholipid and percent phosphatidylcholine (PC). Analysis of the BAL showed that the CDH lungs had both significantly less total phospholipid (CDH 0.10 +/- 0.03 mg/g versus control (CON) 0.76 +/- 0.28 mg/g) and PC (CDH 38 +/- 7.3% versus CON 70 +/- 3.4%) when compared with controls. In contrast the L/S ratios (CDH 2.44 +/- 0.26 versus CON 2.01 +/- 0.32) and PG status (CDH 8.75 +/- 1.01 nmol versus CON 10.2 +/- 0.9) were the same in CDH and control animals. The BAL from the CDH lamb model has a significant surfactant deficiency. Amniotic fluid L/S ratios and PG status were, however, not different between the control and CDH lambs. These results indicate that amniotic fluid L/S ratios and PG do not accurately predict the surfactant status of a fetus with CDH.