Current textbooks in anaesthesia describe how gravity affects the regional distribution of ventilation and blood flow in the lung, in terms of vertical gradients of pleural pressure and pulmonary vascular pressures. This concept fails to explain some of the clinical features of disturbed lung function. Evidence now suggests that gravity has a less important role in the variation of regional distribution than structural features of the airways and blood vessels. We review more recent studies that used a variety of methods: external radioactive counters, measurements using inhaled and injected particles, and computer tomography scans. These give a higher spatial resolution of regional blood flow and ventilation. The matching between ventilation and blood flow in these small units of lung is considered; the effects of microgravity, increased gravity, and different postures are reviewed, and the application of these findings to conditions such as acute lung injury is discussed. Down to the scale of the acinus, there is considerable heterogeneity in the distribution of both ventilation and blood flow. However, the matching of blood flow with ventilation is well maintained and may result from a common pattern of asymmetric branching of the airways and blood vessels. Disruption of this pattern may explain impaired gas exchange after acute lung injury and explain how the prone position improves gas exchange. © The Board of Management and Trustees of the British Journal of Anaesthesia 2007. All rights reserved.
- Model, structural
- Ventilation, perfusion