Initiation of oral breathing in lambs in response to airway obstruction: Mechanisms

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Our aim was to assess the mechanisms determining the reflex formation of an oral airway in response to nasal obstruction (NO) and tracheal obstruction (TO). In nine conscious lambs (14-37 days old) NO was effected by blockade of nasal tubes; TO was later effected by blockade of an endotracheal tube. We measured arterial O2 saturation, PO2, PCO2, and pH and the depth and duration of inspiratory efforts when mouth opening (MO) occurred. Responses were compared when NO and TO followed breathing of room air, rebreathed air, and 100% O2. After both NO and TO, MO was initiated most rapidly after lambs rebreathed air and least rapidly after they breathed 100% O2. Similar changes in blood gases and pH were measured when MO occurred after air breathing and rebreathing; however, the extent of these changes was greater during TO than during NO. After 100% O2 was breathed, MO occurred when lambs were still hyperoxic, but they were more hypercapnic and acidemic than after breathing air or rebreathed air. There were no differences, related to prebreathed gases or site of airway occlusion, in the depth of inspiratory efforts at the time of MO. We conclude that the formation of an oral airway requires a critical level of inspiratory drive in the presence of airway obstruction. After the prebreathing of different gases, differences in response latency and blood gases at the time of MO can be attributed to the attainment of this threshold level of inspiratory drive. The formation of an oral airway is facilitated by, but not dependent on, receptors in the upper airway.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1574-1580
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1991


  • airway occlusion
  • nasal occlusion
  • tracheal obstruction

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