AIMS--To investigate the correlation between chest position and the distribution of surfactant in the lungs of surfactant depleted rabbits, to corroborate current guidelines on the intratracheal instillation of exogenous surfactant in newborns. METHODS--Twelve tracheotomised rabbits, depleted of pulmonary surfactant by saline bronchoalveolar lavage, were given intratracheal 99m Technetium labelled Exosurf in three positions (prone, right side down, and left side down) (n = 4 in each group). They were monitored for 10 minutes using dynamic gamma scintigraphy monitoring. Instillation completed, the lateral lying animals were turned to the opposite side to determine whether redistribution of the surfactant had taken place. The amount of radiolabelled surfactant deposited at the peripheral, central, dorsal and ventral parts of the lungs was then estimated by gamma counting of the lung sections at necropsy. RESULTS--Both gamma scintigraphy and gamma counting showed similar rates and total amount of surfactant accumulation in both lungs of the prone animals. In the lateral lying animals surfactant accumulated at a significantly faster rate in the dependent lungs: the amount of surfactant deposition was three to 14-fold that in the raised lungs (p = 0.017; nested ANOVA). Changing the chest position immediately after instillation did not redistribute the surfactant. In all three groups of animals there was no significant difference in deposition between the peripheral, central, ventral and dorsal parts of the lungs. CONCLUSIONS--Pulmonary distribution of intratracheally instilled surfactant is largely determined by gravity, and changing the chest position after instillation does not result in any redistribution of the surfactant. During the instillation of exogenous surfactant to newborn infants, keeping the chest in the horizontal position may therefore result in the most even distribution of the surfactant in the two lungs. Further deposition studies are required to evaluate the validity of the current recommendations on surfactant administration.
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