Local characteristics of airflow and its global distribution in the lung are determined by interaction between resistance to flow through the airways and the compliance of the tissue, with tissue compliance dominating flow distribution in the healthy lung. Current understanding is that conceptualizing the airways of the lung as a system of smooth adjoined cylinders through which air traverses laminarly is insufficient for understanding flow and energy dissipation and is particularly poor for predicting physiologically realistic transport of particles by the airflow. With rapid advances in medical imaging, computer technologies, and computational techniques, computational fluid dynamics is now becoming a viable tool for providing detailed information on the mechanics of airflow in the human respiratory tract. Studies using such techniques have shown that the upper airway (specifically its development of a turbulent laryngeal jet in the trachea), airway geometry, branching and rotation angle, and the pattern of joining of successive bifurcations are important in determining airflow structures. It is now possible to compute airflow in physical domains that are anatomically accurate and subject specific, enabling comparisons among intersubjects, that among subjects of different ages, and that among different species.
© 2011 American Physiological Society.