In both humans and mice, a deficiency of surfactant protein B (SP-B) is associated with a decreased concentration of mature SP-C and accumulation of a larger SP-C peptide, denoted SP-Ci, which is not observed under normal conditions. Isolation of hydrophobic polypeptides from the lungs of children who died with two different SP-B mutations yielded pure SP-C i and showed only trace amounts of mature SP-C. Determination of the SP-Ci covalent structure revealed a 12-residue N-terminal peptide segment, followed by a 35-residue segment that is identical to mature SP-C. The SP-Ci structure determined herein is similar to that of a proposed late intermediate in the processing of proSP-C, suggesting that SP-C i is the immediate precursor of SP-C. In bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from transgenic mice with a focal deficiency of SP-B, SP-Ci was detected in the biophysically active, large aggregate fraction and was associated with membrane structures that are typical for a large aggregate surfactant. However, unlike SP-C, SP-Ci exhibited a very poor ability to promote phospholipid adsorption, gave high surface tension during cyclic film compression, and did not bind lipopolysaccharide in vitro. SP-C i is thus capable of associating with surfactant lipids, but its N-terminal dodecapeptide segment must be proteolytically removed to generate a biologically functional peptide. The results of this study indicate that the early postnatal fatal respiratory distress seen in SP-B-deficient children is combined with the near absence of active variants of SP-C.
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