1. Acute hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction is important in the restoration of ventilation—perfusion balance in the presence of regional alveolar hypoventilation. However, the magnitude and time course of this response in man has not been adequately characterized in regions smaller than an entire lung. We have studied the effectiveness of hypoxic vasoconstriction in diverting blood from hypoxic lobes in normal supine subjects, and have documented the redistribution of pulmonary blood flow under these conditions.

2. Lobar hypoxia was induced for 80–300 s by placing occluding balloon-tipped catheters in lobar bronchi during fibreoptic bronchoscopy in 10 normal subjects. Respiratory gas partial pressures within occluded lobes were measured with a mass spectrometer. The percentage reduction in blood flow to the hypoxic lobes was assessed after injection of 99mTc-labelled albumin by γ-scintigraphy, and compared with a control scan performed 1 week later. A computer program was used to analyse changes in regional pulmonary perfusion.

3. During lobar bronchial occlusion respiratory gas partial pressures rapidly approached reported values for mixed venous partial pressures. After a mean time of occlusion of 3.5 min lobar blood flow was reduced by 47 ± 5%. During occlusions pulmonary blood flow was not evenly redistributed, but was preferentially redistributed to more cranial lung regions.

4. We conclude that acute hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction in occluded lobes is more effective at rapidly diverting pulmonary blood flow away from hypoxic lung regions than has previously been reported in man during unilateral hypoxia of an entire lung. Non-uniform redistribution of pulmonary blood flow in the supine subject is likely to be due to compression of the lung bases by the diaphragm in the supine position.

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