Our hypothesis was that the simultaneous activation of tongue protrudor and retractor muscles (co-activation) would constrict and stiffen the pharyngeal airway more than the independent activation of tongue protrudor muscles. Upper airway stiffness was determined by injecting known volumes of air into the sealed pharyngeal airway of the anaesthetized rat while measuring nasal pressure under control (no-stimulus) and stimulus conditions (volume paired with hypoglossal (XII) nerve stimulation). Stimulation of the whole XII nerves (co-activation) or the medial XII branches (protrudor activation) effected similar increases in total pharyngeal airway stiffness. Importantly, co-activation produced volume compression (airway narrowing) at large airway volumes (P < 0.05), but had no effect on airway dimension at low airway volumes. In comparison, protrudor activation resulted in significant volume expansion (airway dilatation) at low airway volumes and airway narrowing at high airway volumes (P < 0.05). In conclusion, both co-activation and independent protrudor muscle activation increase airway stiffness. However, their effects on airway size are complex and depend on the condition of the airway at the time of activation.
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