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To examine the hypothesis that hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction may have a slower time course and greater intensity than is currently recognized, experiments were conducted in twelve anaesthetized rabbits subjected to unilateral lung hypoxia for 6 h. Endobronchial cannulation was used to maintain apnoea of one lung at constant airway pressure whilst inflating the lung with nitrogen or liquid. The second lung was ventilated with oxygen to maintain normocapnia and oxygen transfer. A pulmonary ventilated with oxygen to maintain normocapnia and oxygen transfer. A pulmonary artery catheter was introduced non-invasively. Pulmonary shunt was derived from mixed venous and arterial blood gas parameters. Pulmonary artery pressure was monitored continuously and cardiac output was estimated from oxygen uptake measurements before and after 6 h unilateral hypoxia. The experiments show that a rapid phase of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction is followed by a slow phase which develops over hours. The slow phase is associated with a massive blood flow diversion from the hypoxic lung, such that pulmonary shunt after 6 h unilateral hypoxia is indistinguishable from baseline shunt during bilateral ventilation with oxygen. The response is reversible, but with a similarly slow time course. Results from nitrogen and liquid filling of the lung are similar. These findings are consistent with early experiments by Dirken and Heemstra in 1948 (Quart F Exp Physiol 34, 193-211), and challenge the prevailing notion that hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction is always a rapid and relatively weak physiological response to hypoxia.

Original publication




Journal article


Acta Physiol Scand

Publication Date





305 - 313


Animals, Blood Gas Analysis, Blood Pressure, Body Temperature, Carbon Dioxide, Cardiac Output, Hydrogen-Ion Concentration, Hypoxia, In Vitro Techniques, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Oxygen Consumption, Pulmonary Circulation, Rabbits, Vasoconstriction