1. Unilateral bronchial occlusion causes ipsilateral hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, which shifts blood flow towards the other lung. We studied the time course of flow diversion following acute bronchial occlusion, and the temporal effect of the latter on blood gases and vertical distribution of blood flow within the two lungs.

2. Serial infusions of radioactive or fluorescent microspheres were given to each of seven adult standing sheep before, during occlusion of the left mainstem bronchus for up to 6 min, and after release of occlusion. Pulmonary and systemic arterial pressures were recorded continuously and arterial and mixed venous blood gases were determined intermittently. Post-mortem, the lungs were inflated, dried and cut into slices. Relative blood flow at the time of infusion was expressed as the weight-normalized intensity of each tracer in each slice or lung divided by the weight-normalized intensity in the two lungs.

3. Within 30 s, 1 min and 2 min after onset of occlusion, flow in the occluded lung had decreased to 68–84% (range), 51–78% and 43–79% respectively, of the initial value. In the contralateral lung, flow increased by 10–24%, 14–37% and 23–39% respectively. The distribution of flow along the gravitational axis within each lung varied widely between animals, both before and during occlusion. The during-occlusion profiles in the occluded lung differed from those in the non-occluded lung. In either lung, during-occlusion profiles could not be predicted with certainty from the pre-occlusion profiles. Two minutes post-occlusion, inter- and intra-lung flow distribution were nearly the same as before occlusion. Arterial oxygen tension fell in the first minute of occlusion, but never below 7.5 kPa, and increased slowly thereafter. Arterial carbon dioxide tension increased slightly throughout the occlusion period. No appreciable changes in systemic or pulmonary artery pressure were observed. Post-occlusion, arterial oxygen tension was still sub-normal, while carbon dioxide tension continued to increase.

4. We conclude that acute unilateral bronchial occlusion diverts blood flow within 30 s towards the contralateral lung. This rapidly occurring flow diversion prevents the development of severe arterial hypoxaemia. The variable and largely unpredictable distribution of blood flow in the hyperfused non-occluded lung might explain some of the gas-exchange abnormalities observed in physiologically hyperfused lungs and in patients with one hyperfused lung.

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