Surfactant therapy for meconium aspiration syndrome: current status

Peter A Dargaville, John F Mills
Drugs 2005, 65 (18): 2569-91
Meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) is an important cause of respiratory distress in the term infant. Therapy for the disease remains problematic, and newer treatments such as high-frequency ventilation and inhaled nitric oxide are being applied with increasing frequency. There is a significant disturbance of the pulmonary surfactant system in MAS, with a wealth of experimental data indicating that inhibition of surfactant function in the alveolar space is an important element of the pathophysiology of the disease. This inhibition may be mediated by meconium, plasma proteins, haemoglobin and oedema fluid, and, at least in vitro, can be overcome by increasing surfactant phospholipid concentration. These observations have served as the rationale for administration of exogenous surfactant preparations in MAS, initially as standard bolus therapy and, more recently, in association with therapeutic lung lavage. Bolus surfactant therapy in ventilated infants with MAS has been found to improve oxygenation in most studies, although there are a significant proportion of nonresponders and in many cases the effect is transient. Pooled data from randomised controlled trials of surfactant therapy suggest a benefit in terms of a reduction in the requirement for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (relative risk 0.48 in surfactant-treated infants) but no diminution of air leak or ventilator days. Current evidence would support the use of bolus surfactant therapy on a case by case basis in nurseries with a relatively high mortality associated with MAS, or the lack of availability of other forms of respiratory support such as high-frequency ventilation or nitric oxide. If used, bolus surfactant should be administered as early as practicable to infants who exhibit significant parenchymal disease, at a phospholipid dose of at least 100 mg/kg, rapidly instilled into the trachea. Natural surfactant or a third-generation synthetic surfactant should be used and the dosage repeated every 6 hours until oxygenation has improved. Lung lavage with dilute surfactant has recently emerged as an alternative to bolus therapy in MAS, which has the advantage of removing surfactant inhibitors from the alveolar space in addition to augmenting surfactant phospholipid concentration. Combined animal and human data suggest that lung lavage can remove significant amounts of meconium and alveolar debris, and thereby improve oxygenation and pulmonary mechanics. Arterial oxygen saturation inevitably falls during lavage but has been noted to recover relatively rapidly, even in infants with severe disease. Several randomised controlled trials of surfactant lavage in MAS are underway, and until the results are known, lavage must be considered an unproven and experimental therapy.

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