Rationale: Partial neuromuscular transmission failure by acetylcholine receptor blockade (neuromuscular blockade) or antibody-mediated functional loss (myasthenia gravis), even with a magnitude of muscle weakness that does not evoke respiratory symptoms, can evoke dysphagia and decreased inspiratory airflow, and increases the risk of susceptible patients to develop severe pulmonary complications.
Objectives: To assess whether impaired neuromuscular transmission predisposes individuals to inspiratory upper airway collapse, we assessed supraglottic airway diameter and volume by respiratory-gated magnetic resonance imaging, upper airway dilator muscle function (genioglossus force and EMG), and changes in lung volume, respiratory timing, and peripheral muscle function before, during, and after partial neuromuscular blockade in healthy, awake volunteers.
Measurements and main results: Partial neuromuscular blockade (train-of-four [TOF] ratio: 0.5 and 0.8) was associated with the following: (1) a decrease of inspiratory retropalatal and retroglossal upper airway volume to 66 +/- 22 and 82 +/- 12% of baseline, which was significantly more intense in the retropalatal area; (2) an attenuation of the normal increase in anteroposterior upper airway diameter during forced inspiration to 74 +/- 18% of baseline; (3) a decrease in genioglossus activity during maximum voluntary tongue protrusion to 39 +/- 19% (TOF, 0.5) and 73 +/- 29% (TOF, 0.8) of baseline; and (4) no effects on upper airway size during expiration, lung volume, and respiratory timing.
Conclusions: Thus, impaired neuromuscular transmission, even to a degree insufficient to evoke respiratory symptoms, markedly impairs upper airway dimensions and function. This may be explained by an impairment of the balance between upper airway dilating forces and negative intraluminal pressure generated during inspiration by respiratory "pump" muscles.