PURPOSE: Tetrandrine (Tet) is a bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloid isolated from the root of Stephania tetrandra, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat patients with silicosis, asthma, and pulmonary hypertension, and others and can be used as a pulmonary therapeutic agent. We hypothesized that it can also improve the lung growth in congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) for its multiple biological effects. There are increasing evidences that suggest transforming growth factor beta1(TGF-beta1) plays a crucial role in fetal lung growth and morphogenesis. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of prenatal administration of Tet and to investigate its possible mechanism on the expression of TGF-beta1 in the lung of nitrofen-induced CDH rat model. METHODS: A CDH model was induced in pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats by administration of nitrofen on day 9.5 of gestation (Ed9.5 term, day 22). Tetrandrine (30 mg/kg) was given through gavage (once a day, for 3 days) on Ed11.5. Accordingly, there were 3 groups as follows: control (n = 9), CDH (n = 9), and CDH + Tet (n = 9). All the fetuses were delivered by cesarean delivery on Ed16.5, 18.5, and 21.5, respectively, to check if diaphragmatic hernia existed on each fetus, then the lung tissue weight (LW) and body weight (BW) of each fetus were recorded. Histologic evaluations and TGF-beta1 immunohistochemistry staining in the lung sample were performed for image analysis. RESULTS: Diaphragmatic hernia was observed in 95 of the 112 rat fetuses in CDH and CDH + Tet groups on Ed18.5 and Ed21.5 (84.8%), the incidence between the 2 groups had no statistical significance (P = .642). Lung weight/body weight in the CDH group and the CDH + Tet group were lower than that in the control group (P < .01), and LW/BW in the CDH group was lower than that in the CDH + Tet group (P < .05). Observed under the light microscope and electron microscope, marked hypoplasia of the lungs in fetuses among the CDH groups was observed, in contrast to improvement of the lungs in CDH + Tet fetuses. Statistical differences in morphological parameters (percentage of alveoli area, counting bronchus) were found even on Ed16.5 when diaphragm had not closed (P < .01). The number of type II pneumocytes and lamellar bodies in each group had no significant difference (P > .05). The immunoreactivity of TGF-beta1 in CDH group and CDH + Tet group were markedly stronger than that in the control group (P < .01). In addition, TGF-beta1 expression in the CDH group was stronger than that in the CDH + Tet group (P < .01). CONCLUSION: Nitrofen can interfere with lung development early in the fetal rat development before and separate from diaphragm development, and increased expression of TGF-beta1 in the lung of CDH rat model may suppress lung growth and development. Prenatal treatment with Tet can improve the growth of the lung of the nitrofen-induced CDH fetuses and its mechanism seems to be involved in downregulating the expression of TGF-beta1. It is a likely new approach to treat CDH and its coexistent lung hypoplasia by maternal Tet administration.