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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1993 Sep;75(3):1097-109.

Stress failure of pulmonary capillaries in racehorses with exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0623.


Bleeding into the lungs in thoroughbreds is extremely common; there is evidence that it occurs in essentially all horses in training. However, the mechanism is unknown. We tested the hypothesis that exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) is caused by stress failure of pulmonary capillaries. Three thoroughbreds with known EIPH were galloped on a treadmill, and after the horses were killed with intravenous barbiturate the lungs were removed, inflated, and fixed for electron microscopy. Ultrastructural studies showed evidence of stress failure of pulmonary capillaries, including disruptions of the capillary endothelial and alveolar epithelial layers, extensive collections of red blood cells in the alveolar wall interstitium, proteinaceous fluid and red blood cells in the alveolar spaces, interstitial edema, and fluid-filled protrusions of the endothelium into the capillary lumen. The appearances were consistent with the ultrastructural changes we have previously described in rabbit lungs at high capillary transmural pressures. Actual breaks in the endothelium and epithelium were rather difficult to find, and they were frequently associated with platelets and leukocytes that appeared to be plugging the breaks. The paucity of breaks was ascribed to their reversibility when the pressure was lowered and to the fact that 60-70 min elapsed between the gallop and the beginning of lung fixation. Capillary wall stress was calculated from pulmonary vascular pressures measured in a companion study (Jones et al. FASEB J. 6: A2020, 1992) and from measurements of the thickness of the blood-gas barrier and the radius of curvature of the capillaries. The value was as high as 8 x 10(5) dyn/cm2 (8 x 10(4) N/m2), which exceeds the breaking stress of most soft tissues. We conclude that stress failure of pulmonary capillaries is the mechanism of EIPH.

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