During the development of the pulmonary vasculature in the fetus, many structural and functional changes occur to prepare the lung for the transition to air breathing. The development of the pulmonary circulation is genetically controlled by an array of mitogenic factors in a temporo-spatial order. With advancing gestation, pulmonary vessels acquire increased vasoreactivity. The fetal pulmonary vasculature is exposed to a low oxygen tension environment that promotes high intrinsic myogenic tone and high vasocontractility. At birth, a dramatic reduction in pulmonary arterial pressure and resistance occurs with an increase in oxygen tension and blood flow. The striking hemodynamic differences in the pulmonary circulation of the fetus and newborn are regulated by various factors and vasoactive agents. Among them, nitric oxide, endothelin-1, and prostaglandin I2 are mainly derived from endothelial cells and exert their effects via cGMP, cAMP, and Rho kinase signaling pathways. Alterations in these signaling pathways may lead to vascular remodeling, high vasocontractility, and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.
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