Movement of the human upper airway during inspiration with and without inspiratory resistive loading

S. Cheng, J. E. Butler, S. C. Gandevia, L. E. Bilston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


The electromyographic (EMG) activity of human upper airway muscles, particularly the genioglossus, has been widely measured, but the relationship between EMG activity and physical movement of the airway muscles remains unclear. We aimed to measure the motion of the soft tissues surrounding the airway during normal and loaded inspiration on the basis of the hypothesis that this motion would be affected by the addition of resistance to breathing during inspiration. Tagged MR imaging of seven healthy subjects was performed in a 3-T scanner. Tagged 8.6-mm-spaced grids were used, and complementary spatial modulation of magnetization images were acquired beginning ∼200 ms before inspiratory airflow. Deformation of tag line intersections was measured. The genioglossus moved anteriorly during normal and loaded inspiration, with less movement during loaded inspiration. The motion of tissues at the anterior border of the upper airway was nonuniform, with larger motions inferiorly. At the level of the soft palate, the lateral dimension of the airway decreased significantly during loaded inspiration (-0.15 ± 0.09 and -0.48 ± 0.09 mm during unloaded and loaded inspiration, respectively, P < 0.05). When resistance to inspiratory flow was added, genioglossus motion and lateral dimensions of the airway at the level of the soft palate decreased. Our results suggest that genioglossus motion begins early to dilate the airway prior to airflow and that inspiratory loading reduces the anterior motion of the genioglossus and increases the collapse of the lateral airway walls at the level of the soft palate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-75
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


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