Despite decades of research into the mechanisms of lung inflation and deflation, there is little consensus about whether lung inflation occurs due to the recruitment of new alveoli or by changes in the size and/or shape of alveoli and alveolar ducts. In this study we use in vivo 3He lung morphometry via MRI to measure the average alveolar depth and alveolar duct radius at three levels of inspiration in five healthy human subjects and calculate the average alveolar volume, surface area, and the total number of alveoli at each level of inflation. Our results indicate that during a 143 ± 18% increase in lung gas volume, the average alveolar depth decreases 21 ±5%, the average alveolar duct radius increases 7 ± 3%, and the total number of alveoli increases by 96 ± 9% (results are means ± SD between subjects; P < 0.001, P < 0.01, and P < 0.00001, respectively, via paired t-tests). Thus our results indicate that in healthy human subjects the lung inflates primarily by alveolar recruitment and, to a lesser extent, by anisotropic expansion of alveolar ducts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)937-943
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Diffusion
  • He
  • Inflation
  • Lung
  • MRI
  • Morphometry


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