The human body interacts with the environment in many different ways. The lungs interact with the external environment through breathing. The enormously large surface area of the lung with its extremely thin air-blood barrier is exposed to particles suspended in the inhaled air. The particle-lung interaction may cause deleterious effects on health if the inhaled pollutant aerosols are toxic. Conversely, this interaction can be beneficial for disease treatment if the inhaled particles are therapeutic aerosolized drugs. In either case, an accurate estimation of dose and sites of deposition in the respiratory tract is fundamental to understanding subsequent biological response, and the basic physics of particle motion and engineering knowledge needed to understand these subjects is the topic of this article. A large portion of this article deals with three fundamental areas necessary to the understanding of particle transport and deposition in the respiratory tract. These are: (i) the physical characteristics of particles, (ii) particle behavior in gas flow, and (iii) gas-flow patterns in the respiratory tract. Other areas, such as particle transport in the developing lung and in the diseased lung are also considered. The article concludes with a summary and a brief discussion of areas of future research.
© 2013 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 3:1437-1471, 2013.