Alveoli’s Secreted Weapon
Department of Biology
College of Western Idaho
This case study introduces the reader to “Jason,” a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) who is just beginning his career in nursing, and Jason’s grandmother who worked as a nurse in labor and delivery in the 1960s. Grandma tells Jason about “hyaline membrane disease” (now known as infant respiratory distress syndrome, or IRDS) and how she struggled emotionally to care for babies with that condition during a time when no effective treatment was available. The case allows students to study the microscopic anatomy of lung tissue and come to a deeper understanding of the cohesive property of water that creates surface tension (leading to alveolar collapse) in the underdeveloped lungs of premature babies. In addition, they learn how pulmonary surfactant prevents this cohesion, allowing alveoli to stay inflated. This case helps students gain a better understanding of some of the respiratory system learning objectives that would generally be taught in an introductory anatomy and physiology course.
- Describe the microscopic structure of the respiratory membrane.
- Discuss how prematurity increases the risk of infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) and provide some history on the disease.
- Explain polar covalent bonding in water molecules and how it causes water to be partially charged.
- Understand the adhesive and cohesive properties of water responsible for surface tension in the lungs and explain how this can lead to alveolar collapse.
- Discuss pulmonary surfactant including where it is produced and its major constituent, DPPC.
- Describe the chemical properties of DPPC and how it interacts with water molecules in the lungs to help keep alveoli inflated.
KeywordsPulmonary surfactant; alveoli; respiratory system; lungs; surface tension; infant respiratory distress syndrome; IRDS; cohesion
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division, Professional (degree program)
Type / MethodsDirected, Discussion
Subject HeadingsAnatomy | Chemistry (General) | Medicinal Chemistry | Medicine (General) | Nursing | Physiology |
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