Surfactant preparations have been proven to improve clinical outcome of infants at risk for or having respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). In clinical trials, ani mal-derived surfactant preparations reduce the risk of pneumothorax and mortality when compared to non-protein-containing synthetic surfactant preparations. In part, this is thought to be due to the presence of surfactant proteins in animal-derived surfactant preparations. Four native surfactant proteins have been identified. The hydrophobic surfactant proteins B (SP-B) and C (SP-C) are tightly bound to phospholipids. These proteins have important roles in maintaining the surface tension-lowering properties of pulmonary surfactant. Surfactant protein A (SP-A) and D (SP-D) are extremely hydrophilic and are not retained in the preparation of any commercial animal-derived surfactant products. These proteins are thought to have a role in recycling surfactant and improving host defense. There is concern that animal-derived products may have some batch-to-batch variation regarding the levels of native pulmonary surfactant proteins. In addition, there is concern regarding the hypothetical risk of transmission of viral or unconventional infectious agents from an animal source. New surfactant preparations, composed of synthetic phospholipids and essential hydrophobic surfactant protein analogs, have been developed. These surfactant protein analogs have been produced by peptide synthesis and recombinant technology to provide a new class of synthetic surfactants that may be a suitable alternative to animal-derived surfactants. Preliminary clinical studies have shown that treatment with these novel surfactant preparations can ameliorate RDS and improve clinical outcome. Clinicians will need to further understand any differences in clinical effects between available products.
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