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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1999 Jan;86(1):411-7.

Mechanical effects of pharyngeal constrictor activation on pharyngeal airway function.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas 77555-0561,


The mechanical effects of pharyngeal constrictor (PC) muscle activation on pharyngeal airway function were determined in 20 decerebrate, tracheotomized cats. In 10 cats, a high-compliance balloon attached to a pressure transducer was partially inflated to just occlude the pharyngeal airway. During progressive hyperoxic hypercapnia, changes in pharyngeal balloon pressure were directly related to phasic expiratory hyopharyngeus (middle PC) activity. In two separate protocols in 10 additional cats, the following measurements were obtained with and without bilateral electrical stimulation (0.2-ms duration, threshold voltage) of the distal cut end of the vagus nerve's pharyngeal branch supplying PC motor output: 1) pressure-volume relationships in an isolated, sealed upper airway at a stimulation frequency of 30 Hz and 2) rostrally directed axial force over a stimulation frequency range of 0-40 Hz. Airway compliance determined from the pressure-volume relationships decreased with PC stimulation at and below resting airway volume. Compared with the unstimulated condition, PC stimulation increased airway pressure at airway volumes at and above resting volume. This constrictor effect progressively diminished as airway volume was brought below resting volume. At relatively low airway volumes below resting volume, PC stimulation decreased airway pressure compared with that without stimulation. PC stimulation generated a rostrally directed axial force that was directly related to stimulation frequency. The results indicate that PC activation stiffens the pharyngeal airway, exerting both radial and axial effects. The radial effects are dependent on airway volume: constriction of the airway at relatively high airway volumes, and dilation of the airway at relatively low airway volumes. The results imply that, under certain conditions, PC muscle activation may promote pharyngeal airway patency.

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