1. Gas-density-dependence of maximal expiratory flow rates (V̇max), defined as the ratio of V̇max while breathing helium/oxygen (80:20) to V̇max. while breathing air at the same lung volume, was examined in relation to other measurements of airways obstruction in patients with obstructive airways disease before and after administration of bronchodilators.
2. Seventeen patients showed a 45% or greater increase in specific conductance(sGaw) after bronchodilator therapy (group A) and thirteen patients demonstrated a lesser response (group B).
3. Before the administration of bronchodilators, the degree of obstruction in the two groups was not different as measured by lung volumes, sGaw, forced expiratory volume in 1 s, and flow rates high in the vital capacity; yet the maximal mid-expiratory flow rate and the degree of density-dependence were significantly lower in group B.
4. After bronchodilators, both groups of patients showed significant improvements in sGaw flow rates and lung volumes. However, group A patients showed a significant increase in density-dependence whereas group B patients did not.
5. Increased density-dependence after bronchodilators in the group A patients was associated with an increase in the computed resistance of the upstream segment with air and a decrease in resistance with helium/oxygen. These changes could be explained by a more mouthward movement of equal pressure points, and therefore a further increase in the relative contribution of the larger density-dependent airways to limitation of flow.
6. The fact that density-dependence was not altered after bronchodilators in the group B patients suggests that the site of limitation of flow did not change appreciably. The shift in the pressure—flow curve for the upstream airways was such that the computed resistance of these airways fell. Thus it appears that the airways comprising the upstream segment were dilated.