Effects of bronchial vascular engorgement on airway dimensions

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Airway vascular engorgement has been suggested to cause luminal narrowing and airflow obstruction. To determine the extent to which changes in bronchial vascular volume could influence airway dimensions, we studied the effects of left atrial pressure elevation on airway morphometry in sheep (n = 17). The bronchial branch of the bronchoesophageal artery was cannulated and perfused with autologous blood (0.6 ml · min-1 · kg-1). A balloon- tipped catheter was inserted into the left atrial appendage to elevate left atrial pressure by 10 mmHg, and papaverine was infused into the bronchial artery to eliminate airway smooth muscle tone. Morphological measurements were made from rapidly frozen lungs excised in vivo. Left atrial pressure elevation caused a 79% increase in total vascular area (P = 0.0002). Average airway luminal area was significantly decreased from 86 to 71% of the airway maximal area (P < 0.0001). Noteworthy were the prominent bronchial vessels located within mucosal folds. However, when papaverine was infused during left atrial pressure elevation, despite a comparable total vascular area, luminal narrowing did not occur and remained at 87% of the maximal area (P = 0.6267). In conclusion, we found that engorgement of the bronchial vasculature leads to an increase in the vascular area in regions inside and outside the smooth muscle layer. The associated decrease in luminal area only occurs in the presence of airway smooth muscle tone. This suggests a reflex effect on the airway caused by the vascular engorgement. We conclude that vascular engorgement of the airway wall per se has a negligible effect on airway obstruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-301
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1996


  • airway circulation
  • bronchoconstriction
  • left atrial hypertension
  • morphometry
  • sheep
  • vagal reflex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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