Respiratory movement of upper airway tissue in obstructive sleep apnea

Elizabeth C. Brown, Shtaokoon Cheng, David K. McKenzie, Jane E. Butler, Simon C. Gandevia, Lynne E. Bilston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Study Objectives: To measure real-time movement of the tongue and lateral upper airway tissues in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) subjects during wakefulness using tagged magnetic resonance imaging. Design: Comparison of the dynamic imaging of three groups of increasing severity OSA and a control group approximately matched for age and body mass index (BMI). Setting: Not-for-profit research institute Participants: 24 subjects (apnea hypopnea index [AHI] range 2-84 events/h, 6 with AHI < 5 events/h) Methods: The upper airway was imaged awake in two planes using SPAtial Modulation of Magnetization (SPAMM). Tissue displacements were quantified with harmonic phase analysis. Measurements and Results: All subjects had dynamic airway opening in the sagittal plane associated with inspiration. In the nasopharynx, the increase in airway cross-sectional area during inspiration correlated with minimal cross-sectional area of the airway (R = 0.900, P < 0.001). AHI correlated negatively with movement of the nasopharyngeal lateral walls (R = - 0.542, P = 0.006). Four movement patterns were observed during inspiration: "en bloc" anterior movement of the whole posterior tongue; movement of only the oropharyngeal posterior tongue; bidirectional movement; or minimal movement. Some subjects showed different inspiratory movement patterns with different breaths. A low AHI (< 5) was associated with en bloc movement (P = 0.002). Conclusions: Inspiratory movement of the tongue varied between and within subjects, likely as a result of local and neural factors. However, in severe OSA inspiratory movement was minimal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1076
Number of pages8
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamic imaging
  • Genioglossus
  • Lateral walls
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Respiratory movement


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