Bolus dispersal through the lungs in surfactant replacement therapy

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999 Jan;86(1):391-410. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1999.86.1.391.


A model is presented of surfactant replacement therapy. An instilled bolus is pushed into the lungs on the first inspiration, coating the airways with a layer of surfactant and depositing some in the alveoli. Layer thickness depends on the capillary number (muU/gamma, where mu, U, and gamma are bolus viscosity, advancing meniscus velocity, and surface tension, respectively). Larger capillary number leads to thicker layers, reducing alveolar delivery. Subsequently, surface tension gradients sweep surfactant into alveoli not receiving surfactant during the first inspiration. The effects on spreading of sorption kinetics, bolus viscosity, initial layer thickness, initial penetration of surfactant, gravity, and shear stress are examined. Sorption nearly eliminates surface tension gradients in central airways but produces a sharp transition at the leading edge of the exogenous layer. Local thinning of the liquid layer results, trapping 95% of the surfactant in the airways. Gravity and ventilation augment transport somewhat. Transport to the periphery takes 4-170 s for the leading edge but considerably longer for the bulk of the surfactant. The model demonstrates how the various physical parameters governing surfactant distribution might alter the response to surfactant replacement therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Algorithms
  • Gravitation
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Models, Biological
  • Pulmonary Circulation / drug effects
  • Pulmonary Circulation / physiology
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / administration & dosage
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / chemistry
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / drug effects
  • Recruitment, Neurophysiological / physiology
  • Trachea / metabolism
  • Viscosity


  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Pulmonary Surfactants