During inspiration and expiration, gases traverse the conducting airways as they are transported between the environment and the alveolar region of the lungs. The term "conducting" airways is used broadly as the airway tree is thought largely to provide a conduit for the respiratory gases, oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, despite a significantly smaller surface area, and thicker barrier separating the gas phase from the blood when compared to the alveolar region, the airway tree can participate in gas exchange under special conditions such as high water solubility, high chemical reactivity, or production of the gas within the airway wall tissue. While these conditions do not apply to the respiratory gases, other gases demonstrate substantial exchange of the airways and are of particular importance to the inflammatory response of the lungs, the medical-legal field, occupational health, metabolic disorders, or protection of the delicate alveolar membrane. Given the significant structural differences between the airways and the alveolar region, the physical determinants that control airway gas exchange are unique and require different models (both experimental and mathematical) to explore. Our improved physiological understanding of airway gas exchange combined with improved analytical methods to detect trace compounds in the exhaled breath provides future opportunities to develop new exhaled biomarkers that are characteristic of pulmonary and systemic conditions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physiology (medical)