Ventilation-perfusion (V/Q) mismatch is a prominent feature of preterm infants and adults with lung disease. V/Q mismatch is known to cause arterial hypoxemia under steady-state conditions, and has been proposed as the cause of rapid arterial oxygen desaturation during apnea. However, there is little evidence to support a role for V/Q mismatch in the dynamic changes in arterial oxygenation that occur during apnea. Using a mathematical model, we quantified the effect of V/Q mismatch on the rate of desaturation during apnea to ascertain whether it could lead to rates of up to 10 s(-1) as observed in preterm infants. We used a lung-body model for the preterm infant that incorporated 50 parallel alveolar-capillary units that were ventilated and perfused with the severity of V/Q mismatch (sigma) defined conventionally according to sigma=S.D. of the distribution of V/Q ratios. Average desaturation rate 10s from apnea onset was strongly elevated with worsening V/Q mismatch as a result of an earlier desaturation of low V/Q units compared with high V/Q units. However, V/Q mismatch had little impact after apnea onset, with peak desaturation rate only substantially increased if mismatching caused a lowered resting arterial O(2) saturation. In conclusion, V/Q mismatch causes a more immediate onset of desaturation during apnea, and therefore places preterm infants and adults with lung disease at risk of hypoxemic dips. However, V/Q mismatch does not accelerate desaturation rate beyond apnea onset and cannot, therefore, explain the rapid desaturation observed during recurrent apnea in preterm infants.
Sands, S., Edwards, B. A., Kelly, V. J., Davidson, M., Wilkinson, M. H., & Berger, P. J. (2010). A model investigation of the impact of ventilation-perfusion mismatch on oxygenation during apnea in preterm infants. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 264(3), 657 - 662. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2010.03.041