Investigating effects of hypertonic saline solutions on lipid monolayers at the air-water interface

  • Maria F. Nava Ocampo

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


More than 70,000 people worldwide suffer from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease characterized by chronic accumulation of mucus in patients’ lungs provoking bacterial infections, and leading to respiratory failure. An employed age-old treatment to prevent the symptoms of the disease is inhalation of hypertonic saline solution, NaCl at concentrations higher than in the human body (~150 mM). This procedure clears the mucus in the lungs, bringing relief to the patient. However, the biophysical mechanisms underlying this process are not entirely clear. We undertook a new experimental approach to understand the effects of sprayed saline solutions on model lung surfactants towards understanding the mechanisms of the treatment. The surface of lungs contains mainly 1,2-Dipalmitol-sn-glycero-3-phosphocoline (DPPC). As previously assumed by others, we considered that monolayer of DPPC at the air-water interface serves as model system for the lungs surface; we employed a Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) trough and PM-IRRAS to measure surface-specific infrared spectra of the surfactant monolayers and effects on the interfacial tensions. We investigated spraying hyper-saline solutions onto surfactant monolayers at the airwater interface in two parts: (i) validation of our methodology and techniques with stearic acid and (ii) experiments with DPPC monolayers at the air-water interface. Remarkably, when micro-droplets of NaCl were sprayed to the monolayer of stearic acid, we observed enhanced organization of the surfactant, interpreted from the intensities of the CH2 peaks in the surface-specific IR spectra. However, our results with DPPC monolayers didn’t show an effect with the salt added as aerosol, possibly indicating that the experimental methodology proposed is not adequate for the phenomena studied. In parallel, we mimicked respiratory mucous by preparing salt solutions containing 1% (wt%) agar and measured effects on their viscosities. Interestingly, we found that NaCl was much more effective than NaI and NaClO4. This thesis reports structural dynamics of monolayers of stearic acid and DPPC at the airwater interfaces and those of aqueous solutions towards understanding mechanisms underlying the most commonly employed treatment for cystic fibrosis. Our methodology has never been reported before; but requires further modifications to gain deeper insights into the effects of salt sprays on model lung systems.
Date of AwardMay 2017
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorHimanshu Mishra (Supervisor)


  • Hypertonic
  • Interface
  • Lipids
  • Langmuir-Blodgett

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