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Respir Physiol. 1990 Dec;82(3):295-306.

Action of the intercostal muscles on the rib cage.

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Department of Medicine, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio 44109.


Recent studies suggest that the parasternal muscles (PA) are primarily responsible for rib cage expansion during eupneic breathing with a much lesser role played by the interosseous external intercostals (EI). The purpose of the present investigation was to assess the capacity of the EI to expand the rib cage during spontaneous breathing in the absence of coincident ipsilateral PA activation. In 9 anesthetized dogs, we measured PA EMG and length in the 3rd interspace and EI EMG and length in the 3rd and 4th interspaces. During resting breathing, each muscle was electrically active and shortened to a similar degree, approximately 3% of resting length. Following ipsilateral PA denervation (1st through 6th interspaces), the level of EI shortening in the 3rd and 4th interspaces was maintained, but with an increase in neural drive to these muscles. The parasternal muscle in the 3rd interspace lengthened during inspiration. Subsequent sequential denervation of EI in the 3rd and 4th interspaces resulted in their lengthening. In 4 additional animals, axial motion of the 4th rib was measured in the mid axillary line. Ipsilateral PA denervation had no significant effect on rib motion. External intercostal denervation (3rd interspace), on the other hand, had a substantial impact on rib motion, causing the 4th rib to move in the caudal direction during inspiration. Our results indicate that: (a) the EI of the lateral rib cage are capable of elevating the ribs during inspiration independent of PA contraction; (b) PA contraction contributes to EI shortening during eupneic breathing and (c) regional loss of muscle activation results in local rib cage distortion, suggesting that the upper rib cage has multiple degrees of freedom.

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