Pulmonary perfusion heterogeneity is increased by sustained, heavy exercise in humans

Kevin Burnham, T. J. Arai, D. J. Dubowitz, A. C. Henderson, S. Holverda, R. B. Buxton, G. K. Prisk, S. R. Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Exercise presents a considerable stress to the pulmonary system and ventilation-perfusion (V̇A/Q̇) heterogeneity increases with exercise, affecting the efficiency of gas exchange. In particular, prolonged heavy exercise and maximal exercise are known to increase V̇A/Q̇ heterogeneity and these changes persist into recovery. We hypothesized that the spatial heterogeneity of pulmonary perfusion would be similarly elevated after prolonged exercise. To test this, athletic subjects (n = 6, V̇O2max = 61 ml·kg-1·min-1) with exercising V̇A/Q̇ heterogeneity previously characterized by the multiple inert gas elimination technique (MIGET), performed 45 min of cycle exercise at ∼70% V̇O2max. MRI arterial spin labeling measures of pulmonary perfusion were acquired pre- and postexercise (at 20, 40, 60 min post) to quantify the spatial distribution in isogravitational (coronal) and gravitationally dependent (sagittal) planes. Regional proton density measurements allowed perfusion to be normalized for density and quantified in milliliters per minute per gram. Mean lung density did not change significantly in either plane after exercise (P = 0.19). Density-normalized perfusion increased in the sagittal plane postexercise (P = <0.01) but heterogeneity did not (all P ≥ 0.18), likely because of perfusion redistribution and vascular recruitment. Density-normalized perfusion was unchanged in the coronal plane postexercise (P = 0.66), however, perfusion heterogeneity was significantly increased as measured by the relative dispersion [RD, pre 0.62(0.07), post 0.82(0.21), P < 0.0001] and geometric standard deviation [GSD, pre 1.74(0.14), post 2.30(0.56), P < 0.005]. These changes in heterogeneity were related to the exercise-induced changes of the log standard deviation of the ventilation distribution, an MIGET index of V̇A/Q̇ heterogeneity (RD R2 = 0.68, P < 0.05, GSD, R2 = 0.55, P = 0.09). These data are consistent with but not proof of interstitial pulmonary edema as the mechanism underlying exercise-induced increases in both spatial perfusion heterogeneity and V̇A/Q̇ heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1559-1568
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Lung density
  • Ventilation-perfusion inequality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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