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Airway resistance at maximum inhalation as a marker of asthma and airway hyperresponsiveness

Nancy T Mendonça1, Jennifer Kenyon1, Adam S LaPrad1, Sohera N Syeda2, George T O'Connor2 and Kenneth R Lutchen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Engineering, 44 Cummington St., Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA

2 Pulmonary Center, Boston University School of Medicine, 72 E. Concord St., Boston, MA 02118, USA

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Respiratory Research 2011, 12:96  doi:10.1186/1465-9921-12-96

Published: 15 July 2011



Asthmatics exhibit reduced airway dilation at maximal inspiration, likely due to structural differences in airway walls and/or functional differences in airway smooth muscle, factors that may also increase airway responsiveness to bronchoconstricting stimuli. The goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that the minimal airway resistance achievable during a maximal inspiration (Rmin) is abnormally elevated in subjects with airway hyperresponsiveness.


The Rmin was measured in 34 nonasthmatic and 35 asthmatic subjects using forced oscillations at 8 Hz. Rmin and spirometric indices were measured before and after bronchodilation (albuterol) and bronchoconstriction (methacholine). A preliminary study of 84 healthy subjects first established height dependence of baseline Rmin values.


Asthmatics had a higher baseline Rmin % predicted than nonasthmatic subjects (134 ± 33 vs. 109 ± 19 % predicted, p = 0.0004). Sensitivity-specificity analysis using receiver operating characteristic curves indicated that baseline Rmin was able to identify subjects with airway hyperresponsiveness (PC20 < 16 mg/mL) better than most spirometric indices (Area under curve = 0.85, 0.78, and 0.87 for Rmin % predicted, FEV1 % predicted, and FEF25-75 % predicted, respectively). Also, 80% of the subjects with baseline Rmin < 100% predicted did not have airway hyperresponsiveness while 100% of subjects with Rmin > 145% predicted had hyperresponsive airways, regardless of clinical classification as asthmatic or nonasthmatic.


These findings suggest that baseline Rmin, a measurement that is easier to perform than spirometry, performs as well as or better than standard spirometric indices in distinguishing subjects with airway hyperresponsiveness from those without hyperresponsive airways. The relationship of baseline Rmin to asthma and airway hyperresponsiveness likely reflects a causal relation between conditions that stiffen airway walls and hyperresponsiveness. In conjunction with symptom history, Rmin could provide a clinically useful tool for assessing asthma and monitoring response to treatment.