Increased pulmonary blood flow (PBF) is widely thought to provoke pulmonary vascular obstructive disease (PVO), but the impact of wall shear stress in the lung is actually poorly defined. We examined information from patients having cardiac lesions which impact the pulmonary circulation in distinct ways, as well as experimental studies, asking how altered hemodynamics impact the risk of developing PVO. Our results are as follows: (1) with atrial septal defect (ASD; increased PBF but low PAP), shear stress may be increased but there is little tendency to develop PVO; (2) with normal PBF but increased pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR; mitral valve disease) shear stress may also be increased but risk of PVO still low; (3) with high PVR and PBF (e.g., large ventricular septal defect), wall shear stress is markedly increased and the likelihood of developing PVO is much higher than with high PBF or PAP only; and (4) with ASD, experimental and clinical observations suggest that increased PBF plus another stimulus (e.g., endothelial inflammation) may be required for PVO. We conclude that modestly increased wall shear stress (e.g., ASD) infrequently provokes PVO, and likely requires other factors to be harmful. Likewise, increased PAP seldom causes PVO. Markedly increased wall shear stress may greatly increase the likelihood of PVO, but we cannot discriminate its effect from the combined effects of increased PAP and PBF. Finally, the age of onset of increased PAP may critically impact the risk of PVO. Some implications of these observations for future investigations are discussed.
Keywords: pulmonary blood flow; pulmonary hypertension; shear stress.