Separation of surfactant subtypes is now commonly used as a parameter in assessing the amount of active compared with inactive material in various models of lung injury. The protein content, morphology and surface activity were determined of the heavy and light subtype isolated by differential centrifugation. Here we report the presence of surfactant proteins B and C in the heavy subtype but not in the light subtype. Adsorption studies revealed that separation of fast adsorbing bronchoalveolar lavage resulted in slowly adsorbing heavy and light subtypes. Surfactant, reconstituted from heavy and light fractions, did not show a high adsorption rate. It is concluded that the isolation procedures might result in a loss of fast adsorbing surfactant structures. Surface area cycling was used as a model in vitro for the extracellular surfactant metabolism. The heavy subtype is converted into the light subtype during conversion. Conversion performed with resuspended heavy subtype revealed the generation of a disparate subtype. Furthermore it was found that the conversion was dependent on preparation and handling of the samples before cycling. Finally, adsorption studies at low surfactant concentrations revealed a delayed adsorption of lipid-extracted surfactants compared with natural surfactants. These observations emphasize the importance of the (surfactant-associated protein A-dependent) structural organization of surfactant lipids in the adsorption process.

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