The low-temperature electron microscope, which preserves aqueous structures as solid water at liquid nitrogen temperature, was used to image the alveolar lining layer, including surfactant and its aqueous subphase, of air-filled lungs frozen in anesthetized rats at 15-cmH2O transpulmonary pressure. Lining layer thickness was measured on cross fractures of walls of the outermost subpleural alveoli that could be solidified with metal mirror cryofixation at rates sufficient to limit ice crystal growth to 10 nm and prevent appreciable water movement. The thickness of the liquid layer averaged 0.14 micron over relatively flat portions of the alveolar walls, 0.89 micron at the alveolar wall junctions, and 0.09 micron over the protruding features (9 rats, 20 walls, 16 junctions, and 146 areas), for an area-weighted average thickness of 0.2 micron. The alveolar lining layer appears continuous, submerging epithelial cell microvilli and intercellular junctional ridges; varies from a few nanometers to several micrometers in thickness, and serves to smooth the alveolar air-liquid interface in lungs inflated to zone 1 or 2 conditions.
- Copyright © 1995 the American Physiological Society