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Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Feb;105(2):188-200.

The avian respiratory system: a unique model for studies of respiratory toxicosis and for monitoring air quality.

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Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


There are many distinct differences (morphologic, physiologic, and mechanical) between the bird's lung-air-sac respiratory system and the mammalian bronchoalveolar lung. In this paper, we review the physiology of the avian respiratory system with attention to those mechanisms that may lead to significantly different results, relative to those in mammals, following exposure to toxic gases and airborne particulates. We suggest that these differences can be productively exploited to further our understanding of the basic mechanisms of inhalant toxicology (gases and particulates). The large mass-specific gas uptake by the avian respiratory system, at rest and especially during exercise, could be exploited as a sensitive monitor of air quality. Birds have much to offer in our understanding of respiratory toxicology, but that expectation can only be realized by investigating, in a wide variety of avian taxa, the pathophysiologic interactions of a broad range of inhaled toxicants on the bird's unique respiratory system.

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