Maternal loading with very low-density lipoproteins stimulates fetal surfactant synthesis

We examined whether administration of very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) to pregnant rats increases surfactant phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho) content in fetal pre-type II alveolar epithelial cells. VLDL-triglycerides are hydrolyzed to fatty acids by lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme activated by heparin. Fatty acids released by LPL can incorporate into the PtdCho molecule or activate the key biosynthetic enzyme cytidylyltransferase (CCT). Dams were given BSA, heparin, VLDL, or VLDL with heparin intravenously. Radiolabeled VLDL given to the pregnant rat crossed the placenta and was distributed systemically in the fetus and incorporated into disaturated PtdCho (DSPtdCho) in pre-type II cells. Maternal administration of VLDL with heparin increased DSPtdCho content in cells by 45% compared with control (P < 0.05). VLDL produced a dose-dependent, saturable, and selective increase in CCT activity. VLDL did not significantly alter immunoreactive CCT content but increased palmitic, stearic, and oleic acids in pre-type II cells. Furthermore, hypertriglyceridemic apolipoprotein E knockout mice contained significantly greater levels of DSPtdCho content in alveolar lavage and CCT activity compared with either LDL receptor knockout mice or wild-type controls that have normal serum triglycerides. Thus the nutritional or genetic modulation of serum VLDL-triglycerides provides specific fatty acids that stimulate PtdCho synthesis and CCT activity thereby increasing surfactant content.