Influence of tongue muscle contraction and dynamic airway pressure on velopharyngeal volume in the rat

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The mammalian pharynx is a collapsible tube that narrows during inspiration as transmural pressure becomes negative. The velopharynx (VP), which lies posterior to the soft palate, is considered to be one of the most collapsible pharyngeal regions. I tested the hypothesis that negative transmural pressure would narrow the VP, and that electrical stimulation of extrinsic tongue muscles would reverse this effect. Pressure (-6, -3, 3, and 6 cmH2O) was applied to the isolated pharyngeal airway of anesthetized rats that were positioned in a 4.7-T MRI scanner. The volume of eight axial slices encompassing the length of the VP was computed at each level of pressure, with and without bilateral hypoglossal nerve stimulation (0.1-ms pulse, one-third maximum force, 80 Hz). Negative pressure narrowed the VP, and either whole hypoglossal nerve stimulation (coactivation of protrudor and retractor muscles) or medial nerve branch stimulation (independent activation of tongue protrudor muscles) reversed this effect, with the greatest impact in the caudal one-third of the VP. The dilating effects of medial branch stimulation were slightly larger than whole nerve stimulation. Positive pressure dilated the VP, but tongue muscle contraction did not cause further dilation under these conditions. I conclude that the narrowest and most collapsible segment of the rat pharynx is in the caudal VP, posterior to the tip of the soft palate. Either coactivation of protrudor and retractor muscles or independent contraction of protrudor muscles caused dilation of this region, but the latter was slightly more effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)682-693
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Apnea
  • Functional electrical stimulation
  • Hypoglossal nerve
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Pharynx
  • Upper airway

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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