To determine the effects of chronic intrauterine pulmonary hypertension on the perinatal pulmonary circulation, we induced chronic elevations of pulmonary artery pressure in 24 late-gestation fetal lambs by maintaining partial compression of the ductus arteriosus with an inflatable vascular occluder. Pulmonary artery pressure was increased from 44 +/- 1 to 62 +/- 3 mmHg for 3-14 d. Although left pulmonary artery blood flow initially increased during acute partial ductus compression, the increase in flow was not sustained during chronic ductus compression despite persistent elevations of pulmonary artery pressure (P less than 0.01). Chronic hypertension decreased the slope of the pressure-flow relationship from 3.4 +/- 0.3 (initial) to 0.9 +/- 0.1 ml/min per mmHg, and blunted the fetal pulmonary vascular response to small increases in PO2 (P less than 0.0001). Pulmonary hypertension for greater than 8 d increased the wall thickness of small pulmonary arteries (P less than 0.001). Compared with controls, hypertensive animals had higher pulmonary artery pressure, lower pulmonary blood flow, and predominant right-to-left ductus shunting after cesarean-section delivery (P less than 0.0001). We conclude that chronic pulmonary hypertension in utero, in the absence of hypoxemia or sustained increases in blood flow, causes abnormal fetal pulmonary vasoreactivity, structural remodeling, and the failure to achieve the normal decline in pulmonary resistance at birth.
S H Abman, P F Shanley, F J Accurso