The end-expiratory lung-volume level of premature newborn infants is maintained above passive resting volume during active breathing, through the combination of reduced time constant and high respiratory rate. To determine whether nasal continuous positive airway pressure (NCPAP) alters this characteristic dynamic breathing pattern, we studied the effects of various NCPAP levels on the dynamic elevation of end-expiratory lung volume level (DeltaEELV) in spontaneously breathing premature newborn infants, using respiratory inductive plethysmography (RIP). Eleven premature newborn infants with moderate respiratory failure were included. NCPAP levels were set in a random order to 0, 2, 4, and 6 cm H2O. Tidal volume (Vt), rib-cage contribution to Vt (%RC), phase angle between abdominal and thoracic motions (theta), respiratory rate (RR), and inspiratory and expiratory times (Ti and Te) were continuously recorded by RIP. The slope of the linear part of the expiratory flow-volume relation was extrapolated up to zero flow level to evaluate the dynamic elevation of the functional residual capacity (FRC) (DeltaEELV). The time-constant of the respiratory system (tauRS) was calculated as the slope of the linear part of the expiratory flow-volume loop. At NCPAP = 6 cm H2O, DeltaEELV reached 0.6 +/- 0.2 times the Vt at NCPAP = 0 cm H2O. An increase in NCPAP level resulted in a significant decrease in DeltaEELV (P < 0.01). A decrease in DeltaEELV during NCPAP was associated with a significant increase in Te from 0.62 +/- 0.13 sec at NCPAP = 0 cm H2O to 0.80 +/- 0.07 sec at NCPAP = 6 cm H2O (P < 0.05), and a decrease in tauRS from 0.4 +/- 0.1 sec at NCPAP = 0 cm H2O to 0.24 +/- 0.04 sec at NCPAP = 6 cm H2O (P < 0.01). These results indicate that the characteristic spontaneous breathing pattern causing a dynamic elevation of FRC is abolished by NCPAP. We speculate that the dynamic volume-preserving mechanisms resulting from expiratory flow braking are no longer required during NCPAP, as the constant pressure may passively elevate FRC.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.