Objective: To determine the effect of bilateral blockade of the pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve on soft palate function in horses.
Animals: 5 Standardbreds.
Procedure: Peak tracheal inspiratory and expiratory pressures and airflow were measured while horses exercised at the speeds corresponding to 75 and 100% of the speed that resulted in maximal heart rate, with and without pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve blockade. Respiratory frequency-to-stride frequency coupling ratio was measured by correlating foot fall measurements with respiratory frequency. The pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve was blocked bilaterally as the nerve coursed through the auditory tube diverticulum (guttural pouch) across the longus capitus muscle.
Results: Persistent, reversible dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP) occurred in all horses after nerve blockade, and lasted from 1 to 3 hours; normal nasopharyngeal function returned within 3 hours. Compared with control values, peak expiratory tracheal pressure increased (P = 0.001), expiratory impedance increased (P = 0.007), and minute ventilation decreased (P = 0.04). Respiratory frequency-to-stride frequency coupling ratio decreased (P = 0.009) so that horses took 1 breath/stride without the nerve block and, approximately, 1 breath/2 strides with the block.
Conclusion: DDSP creates flow-limiting expiratory obstruction and may be caused by neuromuscular dysfunction involving the pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve. It may alter performance by causing expiratory obstruction and by altering breathing strategy in horses.
Clinical relevance: A repeatable, reversible model of DDSP exists that allows further study of the disease. Dysfunction of the neuromuscular group, pharyngeal branch of the vagus nerve and palatinus and palatopharyngeus muscles, may be implicated in the pathogenesis of clinical DDSP.