The relationship between changes in the pressure distending the alveoli and (transmural pressure) changes in the lung volume is important to understand because it dictates how easily the lung inflates with each breath. The alveolar-distending pressure is often referred to as the transpulmonary pressure. Strictly speaking, the transpulmonary pressure is equal to the pressure in the trachea minus the intrapleural pressure. Thus, it is the pressure difference across the whole lung. However, the pressure in the alveoli is the same as the pressure in the airways – including the trachea – at the beginning or end of each normal breath, that is, end-expiratory or end-inspiratory alveolar pressure is 0 cm H2O. Therefore, at the beginning or end of each lung inflation, alveolar-distending pressure can be referred to as the transpulmonary pressure.
Compliance of the Lung and the Chest Wall
Reference range: The total compliance of a nromal person near the FRC is about 0.1 L/cm H2O. The compliance of the lungs is about 0.2 L/cm H2O; that of the chest wall is also aobut 0.2 L/cm H2O.
Figure 2-6 shows that as the transpulmonary pressure increases, the lung volume increases. This relationship is not a straight line: The lung is composed of living tissue, and although the lung distends easily at low lung volumes, at high volumes the distensible components of alveolar walls have already been stretched, and large increases in trnaspulmonary pressure yield only small increases in volume.
The slope between 2 points on a pressure-volume curve is known as the compliance. Compliance is defined as the change in volume divided by the change in pressure (transmural pressure). Lungs with high compliance have a steep slope on their pressure-volume curves; that is, a small change in distending pressure will cause a large change in volume. It is important to remember that compliance is the inverse of elastance, elasticity, or elastic recoil. Compliance denotes the ease with which something can be stretched or distorted; elastance refers to the tendency for something to oppose stretch or distortion, as well as to its ability to return to its original configuration after the distorting force is removed.
There are several interesting things to note about the lung pressure-volume curve. From Figure 2-6 there is a difference between the pressure-volume curve for inflation and the deflation, as shown by the arrows. Such a difference is called hysteresis. One possible explanation for this hysteresis is the stretching on inspiration and the compression on expiration of the film of surfactant that lines the air-liquid interface in the alveoli. Surfactant has less effect on decreasing surface tension during inspiration than during expiration because of movement of surfactant molecules from the interior of the liquid phase to the surface during inspiration. Another explanationis that some alveoli or small airways may open on inspiration (recruitment) and close on expiration (decrecruitment); the recruitment of collapsed alveoli or small airways requires energy and may be responsible for the lower inflection point seen on some inspiratory pressure-volume curves. Finally, it is helpful to think of each alveolus as having its own pressure-volume curve like that shown in Figure 2-6, although some researchers believe that lung volume changes primarily by recruitment and decrecruitment of alveoli rather than by volume changes of individual alveoli.
Clinical Evaluation of the Compliance of the Lung and the Chest Wall
The compliance of the lung and the chest wall provides very useful data for the clinical evaluation of a patient's respiratory system because many diseases or pathologic states affect the compliance of the lung, of the chest wall, or both. The lung and the chest wall are physically in series with each other, and therefore their compliances add as reciprocals:
Conversely, the elastances of the lung and chest wall add directly.
Compliances in parallel add directly. Therefore, both lungs together are more compliant than either one alone; 2 alveoli in parallel are similarly more compliant than 1 alone.
Representative static compliance curves for the lungs are shown in Figure 2-7. Note that these curves correspond to the expiratory curve in Figure 2-6. Many pathologic states shift the curve to the right (i.e., for any increase in transpulmonary pressure there is less of an increase in lung volume). A proliferation of connective tissue called fibrosis may be seen in sarcoidosis or after chemical or thermal injury to the lungs. Such changes will make the lungs less compliant, or "stiffer," and increase alveolar elastic recoil. Conversely, emphysema increases the compliance of the lungs because it destroys the alveolar septal tissue that normally opposes lung expansion.
For patients wtih decreased lung compliance, they must generate greater transpulmonary pressures to breath in the same volume of air. Therefore they must do more work to inspire than those with normal pulmonary compliance.
The compliance of the chest wall is decreased in obese people, for whom moving the diaphragm downward and the rib cage up and out is much more difficult. People suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder that leads to decreased mobility of the rib cage, such as kyphoscoliosis, also have decreased chest wall compliance. Similarly, people wtih decreased chest wall compliance must do more muscular work than people with normal chest wall compliance.
Lung Elastic Recoil and Alveoli Surface Tension
The elastic recoil of the lungs is partly due to the elastic properties of the pulmonary parenchyma itself. Elastin is more compliant or distensible and is important at low or normal lung volumes. Collagen is less compliant or distensible and is not usually stressed until lung volume is large. However, there is another component of the elastic recoil of the lung besides the elastin, collagen, and other constituents of the lung tissue. That other component is the surface tension at the air-liquid interface in the alveoli.
Surface tension is a force that occurs at any gas-liquid interface and is generated by the cohesive forces between the molecules of the liquid. These cohesive forces balance each other within the liquid phase but are unopposed at the surface of the liquid. Surface tension is what causes water to bead and form droplets. It causes a liquid to shrink to form the smallest possible surface area. The unit of measurement of surface tension is dynes per centimeter (dyn/cm).
Because the lung is inflated with air, an air-liquid interface is present in the lung, and surface tension forces contribute to alveolar elastic recoil. If all the gas is removed from the lung, and it is inflated again, but with saline instead of with air, the surface tension forces are absent because there is no air-liquid interface. In this circumstance, the elastic recoil is due only to the elastic recoil of the lung tissue itself. Thus, the hysteresis disappears under this condition.
Besides the surfactant's impact on elastic recoil, it has another critical importance, which would be described below. According to the Laplace's law, the transmural pressure of two alveoli with different radius would be different in the absence of surfactant (the surface tension of most liquids is constant and not dependent on the surface area of the air-liquid inteface). Consider what this would mean in the lung, where alveoli of different sizes are connected to each other by common airways and collateral ventilation pathways. If 2 alveoli of different sizes (radius) are connected by a common airway and the surface tension of the 2 alveoli is equal, then the pressure in the small alveolus must be greater than that in the larger alveolus and the smaller alveolus will empty into the larger alveolus. If surface tension is independent of surface area, the smaller the alveolus with smaller radius becomes, the higher the pressure in it. Thus, if the lung were composed of interconnected alveoli of different sizes with a constant surface tension at the air-liquid interface, it would be expected to be inherently unstable with a tendency for smaller alveoli to collapse into larger ones. Normally, this is not the case, which is fortunate because collapsed alveoli require very great distending pressures to reopen, partly because of the cohesive forces at the liquid-liquid interface of collapsed alveoli. At least two factors cause the alveoli to be more stable than this prediction based on constant surface tension. The first factor is a substance called pulmonary surfactant, which is produced by specialized alveolar cells, and the second is the structrual interdependence of the alveoli.