Host defence capacities of pulmonary surfactant: evidence for 'non-surfactant' functions of the surfactant system

Eur J Clin Invest. 1994 Sep;24(9):586-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2362.1994.tb01110.x.


The most well characterized function of pulmonary surfactant is its ability to reduce surface tension at the alveolar air-liquid interface, thereby preventing lung collapse. However, several lines of evidence suggest that surfactant may also have 'non-surfactant' functions: specific components of surfactant (proteins and phospholipids) may interact with different alveolar cells, inhaled particles and micro-organisms modulating pulmonary host defence systems. SP-A, the most abundant surfactant protein, binds to alveolar macrophages via a specific surface receptor with high affinity [128]. Such binding effects the release of reactive oxygen species from resident alveolar macrophages if SP-A is properly presented to the target cell. SP-A also stimulates chemotaxis of alveolar macrophages [142], and serves as an opsonin in the phagocytosis of herpes simplex virus [161] Candida tropicalis [138] and various bacteria [137]. In addition, SP-A enhances the uptake of particles by monocytes and culture-derived macrophages [140] and improves bacterial killing. SP-D, another hydrophobic surfactant-associated protein, might interact with alveolar macrophages as well, stimulating the release of oxygen radicals [148], while for the hydrophilic surfactant proteins SP-B and SP-C no macrophage interactions have been described so far. SP-A and SP-D are members of the so-called 'collectins', pattern recognition molecules involved in first line defence. While some surfactant proteins appear to stimulate certain macrophage defence functions, surfactant phospholipids seem to inhibit those of lymphocytes. Suppressed lymphocyte functions include lymphoproliferation in response to mitogens and alloantigens, B cell immunoglobulin production and natural killer cell cytotoxicity. Concerning surfactant's phospholipid composition phosphatidylglycerol is more suppressive than phosphatidylcholine on a molar basis [38]. Bovine surfactant has an immunosuppressive effect on the development of hypersensitivity pneumonitis in a guinea pig model [150]. Despite these interesting observations, several important questions concerning the interactions of surfactant components with pulmonary host defence systems remain unanswered. Sufficient host defence in the lungs works through various humoral-cellular systems in conjunction with the specific anatomy of the airways and the gas exchange surface--how does the surfactant system fit into this network? Surfactant and alveolar cells are both altered during lung injury--is there a relationship between alveolar cells from RDS patients and the endogenous surfactant isolated from such patients? How does exogenous surfactant as used for substitution therapy modulate the defence system of the host? Some of those artificial surfactants have been shown to inhibit the endotoxin-alveolar macrophages, PMNs and monocytes including IL-1, IL-6 and TNF [139,152].(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Lung / immunology*
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / chemistry
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / physiology*


  • Pulmonary Surfactants