Movement of Air In and Out of the Lungs and the Pressures That Cause the Movement

The lung is an elastic structure that collapses like a balloon and expels all its air through the trachea whenever there is no force to keep it inflated. Also, there are no attachments between the lung and the walls of the chest cage, except where it is suspended at its hilum from the mediastinum. Instead, the lung "floats" in the thoracic cavity, surrounded by a thin layer of pleural fluid that lubricates movement of the lungs within the cavity. Further, continual suction of excess fluid into lymphatic channels maintains a slight suction between the visceral surface of the lung pleura and the parietal pleural surface of the thoracic cavity. Therefore, the lungs are held to the thoracic wall as if glued there, except that they are well lubricated and can slide freely as the chest expands and contracts.

Pleural Pressure and Its Changes During Respiration

Pleural pressure is the pressure of the fluid in the thin space between the lung pleura and the chest wall pleura. As noted earlier, this is normally a slight suction, which means a slightly negative pressure. The normal pleural pressure at the beginning of inspiration

Changes in lung volume, alveolar pressure, pleural pressure, and transpulmonary pressure during normal breathing.

is about -5 centimeters of water, which is the amount of suction required to hold the lungs open to their resting level. Then, during normal inspiration, expansion of the chest cage pulls outward on the lungs with greater force and creates more negative pressure, to an average of about -7.5 centimeters of water.

These relationships between pleural pressure and changing lung volume are demonstrated in Figure 37-2, showing in the lower panel the increasing negativity of the pleural pressure from -5 to -7.5 during inspiration and in the upper panel an increase in lung volume of 0.5 liter. Then, during expiration, the events are essentially reversed.

Alveolar Pressure

Alveolar pressure is the pressure of the air inside the lung alveoli. When the glottis is open and no air is flowing into or out of the lungs, the pressures in all parts of the respiratory tree, all the way to the alveoli, are equal to atmospheric pressure, which is considered to be zero reference pressure in the airways—that is, 0 centimeters water pressure. To cause inward flow of air into the alveoli during inspiration, the pressure in the alveoli must fall to a value slightly below atmospheric pressure (below 0). The second curve (labeled "alveolar pressure") of Figure 37-2 demonstrates that during normal inspiration, alveolar pressure decreases to about -1 centimeter of water. This slight negative pressure is enough to pull 0.5 liter of air into the lungs in the 2 seconds required for normal quiet inspiration.

During expiration, opposite pressures occur: The alveolar pressure rises to about +1 centimeter of water, and this forces the 0.5 liter of inspired air out of the lungs during the 2 to 3 seconds of expiration.

Transpulmonary Pressure. Finally, note in Figure 37-2 the difference between the alveolar pressure and the pleural pressure. This is called the transpulmonary pressure. It is the pressure difference between that in the alveoli and that on the outer surfaces of the lungs, and it is a measure of the elastic forces in the lungs that tend to collapse the lungs at each instant of respiration, called the recoil pressure.

Compliance of the Lungs

The extent to which the lungs will expand for each unit increase in transpulmonary pressure (if enough time is allowed to reach equilibrium) is called the lung compliance. The total compliance of both lungs together in the normal adult human being averages about 200 milliliters of air per centimeter of water transpulmonary pressure. That is, every time the transpulmonary pressure increases 1 centimeter of water, the lung volume, after 10 to 20 seconds, will expand 200 milliliters.

Compliance Diagram of the Lungs. Figure 37-3 is a diagram relating lung volume changes to changes in transpul-monary pressure. Note that the relation is different for inspiration and expiration. Each curve is recorded by changing the transpulmonary pressure in small steps and allowing the lung volume to come to a steady level between successive steps. The two curves are called, respectively, the inspiratory compliance curve and the expiratory compliance curve, and the entire diagram is called the compliance diagram of the lungs.

The characteristics of the compliance diagram are determined by the elastic forces of the lungs. These can be divided into two parts: (1) elastic forces of the lung tissue itself and (2) elastic forces caused by surface tension of the fluid that lines the inside walls of the alveoli and other lung air spaces.

The elastic forces of the lung tissue are determined mainly by elastin and collagen fibers interwoven among the lung parenchyma. In deflated lungs, these fibers are in an elastically contracted and kinked state; then, when the lungs expand, the fibers become stretched and unkinked, thereby elongating and exerting even more elastic force.

The elastic forces caused by surface tension are much more complex. The significance of surface tension is shown in Figure 37-4, which compares the compliance diagram of the lungs when filled with saline solution and when filled with air.When the lungs are filled with air, there is an interface between the alveolar fluid and the air in the alveoli. In the case of the saline solution-filled lungs, there is no air-fluid interface; therefore, the surface tension effect is not present—only tissue elastic forces are operative in the saline solution-filled lung.

Note that transpleural pressures required to expand air-filled lungs are about three times as great as those required to expand saline solution-filled lungs. Thus, one can conclude that the tissue elastic forces tending to cause collapse of the air-filled lung represent only about one third of the total lung elasticity, whereas the

Ventilator Pressure Volume Loops
Figure 37-3

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

Get My Free Ebook


  • robert
    What causes the movement of air between the atmosphere and the lungs?
    3 years ago
  • Anna
    What causes the movement of air between the atmisphere and the lungs?
    3 years ago
  • iole
    What cases the movement of air betweeb the atmosphere and the lungs?
    3 years ago
  • Berylla
    What causes movements of the air between atmosphere and lungs?
    3 years ago
  • Christina
    What cousess the movement of air between the atmosphere and lungs?
    3 years ago
  • maarit
    What causes the movement of air in the atsmosphere and the lungs?
    3 years ago
  • ruth
    How is air in the lungs and in the atmosphere on inspiration?
    3 years ago
  • john
    What is the movement of air towards the alveoli?
    6 months ago
  • Marcel
    How does movement of air in and out of the lungs cotribute the respiration?
    3 months ago
  • topi
    Can rate air expels from lungs be increased?
    3 months ago
  • Roman Christie
    What does the movment of air out of the lungs?
    10 days ago

Post a comment