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J Biomech. 2012 Jul 26;45(11):1992-2000. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2012.04.027. Epub 2012 May 31.

Passive movement of human soft palate during respiration: A simulation of 3D fluid/structure interaction.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


This study reconstructed a three dimensional fluid/structure interaction (FSI) model to investigate the compliance of human soft palate during calm respiration. Magnetic resonance imaging scans of a healthy male subject were obtained for model reconstruction of the upper airway and the soft palate. The fluid domain consists of nasal cavity, nasopharynx and oropharynx. The airflow in upper airway was assumed as laminar and incompressible. The soft palate was assumed as linear elastic. The interface between airway and soft palate was the FSI interface. Sinusoidal variation of velocity magnitude was applied at the oropharynx corresponding to ventilation rate of 7.5L/min. Simulations of fluid model in upper airway, FSI models with palatal Young's modulus of 7539Pa and 3000Pa were carried out for two cycles of respiration. The results showed that the integrated shear forces over the FSI interface were much smaller than integrated pressure forces in all the three directions (axial, coronal and sagittal). The total integrated force in sagittal direction was much smaller than that of coronal and axial directions. The soft palate was almost static during inspiration but moved towards the posterior pharyngeal wall during expiration. In conclusion, the displacement of human soft palate during respiration was mainly driven by air pressure around the surface of the soft palate with minimal contribution of shear stress of the upper airway flow. Despite inspirational negative pressure, expiratory posterior movement of soft palate could be another factor for the induction of airway collapse.

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