Premature babies require extra care during the initial months of their birth. And now a new study says that babies born before 37 weeks may respond badly to flu and other lung diseases later in their lives. This happens due to absence of absence of certain lung cells.
According to the findings, when newborn mices are exposed to extra oxygen at the time of birth, for their lungs to respond and develop in the same way as the preterm infants, they end up having fewer of these cells in adulthood.
Researchers from University of Rochester Medical Center in the US explained that mice that were born into oxygen-rich environment had worse response to flu at the time they were fully grown and the reason being absence of certain lung cells.
The research results potentially explain why preterm infants are susceptible to influenza and other lung diseases later on in their lives.
Alveolar type II cells which help in rebuilding lung tissue after damage, were focused in the study. When these mice were exposed to influenza virus as adults, then theyb developed severe disease than the mice that were born in normal oxygen environment.
“We don’t know if this is exactly what happens in preterm infants,” said Michael O’Reilly.
“But we do know that there’s a direct correlation between the loss of these cells and an inferior response to lung disease and we do know that there’s something about that early oxygen-rich environment that causes a mouse to respond poorly to viral infection later in life. So this helps connect those dots,” O’Reilly added.
In healthy infants, cells are present in abundunt amount in the lungs as they are responsible for producing pulmonary surfactant which is an important compound at the time lungs are developing. Some of the cells are pruned away, as the lungs mature after birth. While the process is taken too far in case of lungs of premature infants, pruning too many type II cells.
“Right now, we don’t really understand the biology of that,” said O’Reilly. “But once we do, that opens the door to exploring a potential treatment."