Pulmonary surfactant is a lipid-protein complex that coats the interior of the alveoli and enables the lungs to function properly. Upon its synthesis, lung surfactant adsorbs at the interface between the air and the hypophase, a capillary aqueous layer covering the alveoli. By lowering and modulating surface tension during breathing, lung surfactant reduces respiratory work of expansion, and stabilises alveoli against collapse during expiration. Pulmonary surfactant deficiency, or dysfunction, contributes to several respiratory pathologies, such as infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS) in premature neonates, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in children and adults. The main clinical exogenous surfactants currently in use to treat some of these pathologies are essentially organic extracts obtained from animal lungs. Although very efficient, natural surfactants bear serious defects: i) they could vary in composition from batch to batch; ii) their production involves relatively high costs, and sources are limited; and iii) they carry a potential risk of transmission of animal infectious agents and the possibility of immunological reaction. All these caveats justify the necessity for a highly controlled synthetic material. In the present review the efforts aimed at new surfactant development, including the modification of existing exogenous surfactants by adding molecules that can enhance their activity, and the progress achieved in the production of completely new preparations, are discussed.
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