To determine whether abnormalities of pulmonary surfactant occur in infants with acute viral bronchiolitis, surfactant indices were measured in lung lavage fluid from 12 infants with severe bronchiolitis and eight infants without lung disease. Compared with controls, the bronchiolitis group showed deficiency of surfactant protein A (1.02 v 14.4 micrograms/ml) and disaturated phosphatidylcholine (35 v 1060 micrograms/ml) which resolved as the disease improved. Surfactant functional activity was also impaired (minimum surface tension 22 v 17 mN/m). These findings indicate that surfactant abnormalities occur in bronchiolitis, and may represent one of the pathophysiological mechanisms causing airway obstruction.
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