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Functional significance of increased airway smooth muscle in asthma and COPD

, , , , and . Journal of Applied Physiology 74 (6): 2771-2781 (1993)


Using a computational model, we investigated the effect of the morphologically determined increased airway smooth muscle mass, adventitial mass, and submucosal mass observed in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on the increase in airway resistance in response to a bronchoconstricting stimulus. The computational model of Wiggs et al. (J. Appl. Physiol. 69: 849–860, 1990) was modified in such a way that smooth muscle shortening was limited by the maximal stress that the muscle could develop at the constricted length. Increased adventitial thickness was found to increase constriction by reducing parenchymal interdependence. Increased submucosal thickness led to greater luminal occlusion for any degree of smooth muscle shortening. Increased muscle thickness allowed greater smooth muscle shortening against the elastic loads provided by parenchymal interdependence and airway wall stiffness. We found that for constant airway mechanics, as reflected by the passive area-pressure curves of the airways, the increased muscle mass is likely to be the most important abnormality responsible for the increased resistance observed in response to bronchoconstricting stimuli in asthma and COPD. For a given maximal muscle stress, greater muscle thickness allows the development of greater tension and thus more constriction of the lumen.

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