Surface-area cycling is an in vitro procedure for the conversion of large into small surfactant aggregates. In this procedure a tube containing a surfactant suspension is rotated end-over-end at 37 degrees C so that the surface area of the suspension changes twice each cycle. We have utilized this method to study the mechanisms involved in aggregate conversion. Several different surfactant preparations were analysed: (1) bovine natural surfactant, a sucrose-gradient-purified material containing surfactant phospholipid and surfactant-associated proteins (SP-) SP-A, SP-B and SP-C; (2) bovine lipid-extract surfactant, which contains the surfactant phospholipids and SP-B and SP-C; (3) mixtures of dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol (7:3, w/w) reconstituted with one or more surfactant proteins. Aggregate conversion was measured by phosphorus analysis of a 40,000 g supernatant (small aggregate) and pellet (large aggregates) before and after surface-area cycling. Surface-area cycling of lipid extract surfactant or lipids plus SP-B or SP-C resulted in rapid aggregate conversion. Lipids alone were not converted. Only a small percentage of purified natural surfactant was converted into small aggregates. Addition of SP-A to lipid extract surfactant could inhibit aggregate conversion of this material, but this was only observed when an additional 1% (w/w) of SP-B was added to the lipid extract. It is concluded that SP-A is important for large-aggregate integrity. It appears that SP-A acts in conjunction with SP-B. The presence of SP-B and/or SP-C is required for aggregate conversion; it is proposed that this reflects the necessity for lipid adsorption in aggregate conversion.

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