With increasing spatial resolution of regional ventilation and perfusion, it has become more apparent that ventilation and blood flow are quite heterogeneous in the lung. A number of mechanisms contribute to this regional variability, including hydrostatic gradients, pleural pressure gradients, lung compressibility, and the geometry of the airway and vascular trees. Despite this marked heterogeneity in both ventilation and perfusion, efficient gas exchange is possible through the close regional matching of the two. Passive mechanisms, such as the shared effect of gravity and the matched branching of vascular and airway trees, create efficient gas exchange through the strong correlation between ventilation and perfusion. Active mechanisms that match local ventilation and perfusion play little if no role in the normal healthy lung but are important under pathologic conditions.
© 2011 American Physiological Society.