The literature proving the presence of a surface tension lowering substance (STLS) on the lining layer of mammalian Eustachian tube (ET) is critically reviewed. A further review of the chemical studies on tubal washings based on chromatographic analysis methods (TLC and HPLC) is performed, and is concluded that ET epithelium is coated by a mixture of phospholipids, similar but not identical to the pulmonary surfactant and with similar but less powerful surface activity. In both cases, and with minor differences between the different mammalian species, phosphatidylcholine (PC), and in particular its disaturated fraction, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC), is the predominating and the most active compound. ET surfactant is synthesized by ET epithelium and secreted in form of osmiophilic multilamellar bodies into the tubal lumen. The exact function of the ET surfactant is not fully understood: it may play an important role in ET physiology by facilitating the tubal opening to allow for aeration of the middle ear and adequate drainage or could act as a release agent, preventing solid-to-solid adhesion of the tubal walls and contrasting the adhesive action of the glycoproteins of the mucous blanket. On the other hand a phospholipidic surfactant seems to be produced by the mucosa of the other parts of the upper airways, i.e. nose and trachea. In this case a surface active agent could act in preventing the transudation of serum into the lumen, in enhancing the phagocytosis or in facilitating the mucociliary transport. Recent data on humans, suggesting that a relative deficiency or an alterated production of tubal surfactant could play a role in the pathogenesis of secretory otitis media (SOM) or middle ear effusion (MEE), are reviewed. Administration of exogenous surfactant or pharmacological stimulation of the production of tubal surfactant could improve ET function and be of value in some cases of SOM. Personal data, suggesting that ambroxol (a drug stimulating the production of pulmonary surfactant by the alveolar type II pneumocytes) exerts a similar activating effect on the tubotympanal secretory cells, are reported. These data support the results of clinical studies on the treatment of SOM with ambroxol.
|Translated title of the contribution||Surfactant and respiratory tract. A critical review and a personal contribution|
|Number of pages||14|
|Journal||Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica, Supplement|
|Publication status||Published - 1997|
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