To determine the structural basis for alterations in upper airway (UA) collapsibility, the pharyngeal critical pressure (Pcrit) was measured in an isolated feline upper airway preparation. The effect of airway elongation and dilation was explored by displacing the trachea caudally and the tongue anteriorly, respectively. With caudal-tracheal displacement, Pcrit fell progressively, a result that can be attributed to increased tension within the pharyngeal mucosa. In contrast, anterior-tongue displacement decreased Pcrit when the trachea had been caudally displaced but not with the trachea in the neutral position. These findings suggest that longitudinal tension within the airway mucosa modulates both Pcrit and the response in Pcrit to dilating forces. A mechanical model to account for these findings is discussed.