Bronchodilation response to deep inspirations in asthma is dependent on airway distensibility and air trapping

George Pyrgos, Nicola Scichilone, Alkis Togias, Robert H. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In healthy individuals, deep inspirations (DIs) have a potent bronchodi-latory ability against methacholine (MCh)-induced bronchoconstric- tion. This is variably attenuated in asthma. We hypothesized that inability to bronchodilate with DIs is related to reduced airway distensibility. We examined the relationship between DI-induced bronchodilation and airway distensibility in 15 asthmatic individuals with a wide range of baseline lung function [forced expired volume in 1 s (FEV1) = 60-99% predicted]. After abstaining from DIs for 20 min, subjects received a single-dose MCh challenge and then asked to perform DIs. The effectiveness of DIs was assessed by the ability of the subjects to improve FEV1. The same subjects were studied by two sets of high-resolution CT scans, one at functional residual capacity (FRC) and one at total lung capacity (TLC). In each subject, the areas of 21-41 airways (0.8-6.8 mm diameter at FRC) were matched and measured, and airway distensibility (increase in airway diameter from FRC to TLC) was calculated. The bronchodilatory ability of DIs was significantly lower in individuals with FEV1 <75% predicted than in those with FEV1 ≥75% predicted (15 ± 11% vs. 46 ± 9%, P = 0.04) and strongly correlated with airway distensibility (r = 0.57, P = 0.03), but also with residual volume (RV)/TLC (r =-0.63, P = 0.01). In multiple regression, only RV/TLC was a significant determinant of DI-induced bronchodilation. These relationships were lost when the airways were examined after maximal bronchodilation with albuterol. Our data indicate that the loss of the bronchodilatory effect of DI in asthma is related to the ability to distend the airways with lung inflation, which is, in turn, related to the extent of air trapping and airway smooth muscle tone. These relationships only exist in the presence of airway tone, indicating that structural changes in the conducting airways visualized by high-resolution CT do not play a pivotal role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)472-479
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Airway obstruction
  • Bronchoprotection
  • High-resolution CT

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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