This is the fifth paper in a review series that summarizes available data and critically discusses the potential role of lung function testing in infants and young children with acute neonatal respiratory disorders and chronic lung disease of infancy (CLDI). This review focuses on respiratory mechanics, including chest-wall and tissue mechanics, obtained in the intensive care setting and in infants during unassisted breathing. Following orientation of the reader to the subject area, we focused comments on areas of enquiry proposed in the introductory paper to this series. The quality of the published literature is reviewed critically with respect to relevant methods, equipment and study design, limitations and strengths of different techniques, and availability and appropriateness of reference data. Recommendations to guide future investigations in this field are provided. Numerous different methods have been used to assess respiratory mechanics with the aims of describing pulmonary status in preterm infants and assessing the effect of therapeutic interventions such as surfactant treatment, antenatal or postnatal steroids, or bronchodilator treatment. Interpretation of many of these studies is limited because lung volume was not measured simultaneously. In addition, populations are not comparable, and the number of infants studied has generally been small. Nevertheless, results appear to support the pathophysiological concept that immaturity of the lung leads to impaired lung function, which may improve with growth and development, irrespective of the diagnosis of chronic lung disease. To fully understand the impact of immaturity on the developing lung, it is unlikely that a single parameter such as respiratory compliance or resistance will accurately describe underlying changes. Assessment of respiratory mechanics will have to be supplemented by assessment of lung volume and airway function. New methods such as the low-frequency forced oscillation technique, which differentiate the tissue and airway components of respiratory mechanics, are likely to require further development before they can be of clinical significance.
2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.