Lung surfactant under attack – new ways to study lipids and proteins at the air-water interface

Katherine Thompson (primary)
Department of Biological Sciences
Prof Nicholas Keep (secondary)
Biological Sciences


Lung surfactant is a complex fluid that lines the air-water interface of the lung and prevents alveolar collapse. A deficiency of lung surfactant in premature infants and surfactant disorders, both inherited and caused following exposure to external pollutants, can lead to potentially fatal respiratory distress. This project aims to develop new neutron reflection and small angle neutron scattering methods to characterize the structure of lung surfactant fluid. Specifically the organization and interaction between the component proteins and lipids at the air-water interface and in lipid bilayers, will be determined, and how oxidative damage modifies these interactions.


Hemming, J.M., Hughes, B.R., Rennie, A.R., Tomas, S., Campbell, R.A., Hughes, A.V., Arnold, T., Botchway, S.W. and Thompson, K.C., Environmental Pollutant Ozone Causes Damage to Lung Surfactant Protein B (SP-B), Biochemistry, 54, 5185−5197, 2015.

Thompson, K. C., Jones, S. H., Rennie, A. R., King, M. D., Ward, A. D., Hughes, B. R., Lucas, C. O. M., Campbell, R. A. and Hughes, A. V., Degradation and Rearrangement of a Lung Surfactant Lipid at the Air-Water Interface during Exposure to the Pollutant Gas Ozone. Langmuir, 29, 4594–4602, 2013.

Parra, E. and Pérez-Gil, J., Composition, structure and mechanical properties define performance of pulmonary surfactant membranes and films. Chemistry and Physics of Lipids, 185, 153–175, 2015.

Heberle, F. A., Petruzielo, R. S., Pan, J., Drazba, P., Kučerka, N, Standaert, R. F., Feigenson, G. W., and Katsaras. J., Bilayer Thickness Mismatch Controls Domain Size in Model Membranes, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 135: 6853–6859, 2013.

Jianjun, P., Heberle, F. A., Petruzielo, R. S. and Katsaras, J., Using Small-Angle Neutron Scattering to Detect Nanoscopic Lipid Domains, Chemistry and Physics of Lipids, 170-171, 19–32, 2013.

Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology
Area of Biology
Chemical BiologyStructural Biology
Techniques & Approaches
BiochemistryBiophysicsMolecular BiologySimulation / Modelling