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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Aug;113(3):442-50. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01549.2011. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

Aerosol bolus dispersion in acinar airways--influence of gravity and airway asymmetry.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0623, USA.


The aerosol bolus technique can be used to estimate the degree of convective mixing in the lung; however, contributions of different lung compartments to measured dispersion cannot be differentiated unambiguously. To estimate dispersion in the distal lung, we studied the effect of gravity and airway asymmetry on the dispersion of 1 μm-diameter particle boluses in three-dimensional computational models of the lung periphery, ranging from a single alveolar sac to four-generation (g4) structures of bifurcating airways that deformed homogeneously during breathing. Boluses were introduced at the beginning of a 2-s inhalation, immediately followed by a 3-s exhalation. Dispersion was estimated by the half-width of the exhaled bolus. Dispersion was significantly affected by the spatial orientation of the models in normal gravity and was less in zero gravity than in normal gravity. Dispersion was strongly correlated with model volume in both normal and zero gravity. Predicted pulmonary dispersion based on a symmetric g4 acinar model was 391 ml and 238 ml under normal and zero gravity, respectively. These results accounted for a significant amount of dispersion measured experimentally. In zero gravity, predicted dispersion in a highly asymmetric model accounted for ∼20% of that obtained in a symmetric model with comparable volume and number of alveolated branches, whereas normal gravity dispersions were comparable in both models. These results suggest that gravitational sedimentation and not geometrical asymmetry is the dominant factor in aerosol dispersion in the lung periphery.

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