Research summary – Sarah Ezzeddine & Neta Fibeesh

Respiratory load perception in overweight and asthmatic children
Victoria MacBean, Lorna Wheatley, Alan C Lunt, Gerrard F. Rafferty
Published in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, February 2017

This study examined differences in children’s awareness of breathing difficulty, specifically the influence of weight and asthma. With obesity on the rise in Western society and asthma being a common long-term medical condition, it is crucial to understand why obese, asthmatic children report more breathlessness than asthmatic children who are not overweight, even when there are no differences in the severity of their asthma. It has previously been suggested that overweight children may have an increased awareness of breathing effort.
This study compared various aspects of breathing across three groups of children: asthmatic children with healthy weight, overweight children with asthma and a control group of healthy weight children. The project involved the children breathing through a device which added resistance to breathing. Children were asked to rate how hard they felt it was to breathe, and the tests also measured the children’s breathing muscle activity to find out how hard the breathing muscles were working as the researchers purposefully increased the children’s effort to breathe.
The anticipated results were that healthy weight asthmatic children and healthy weight children would show similar results, that is that their breathing effort scores would steadily increase as they found it harder to breathe, with the breathing muscles working gradually harder. Meanwhile, the overweight asthmatic children would show a much steeper increase.
From the 27 children who were studied, the results showed that the overweight children gave higher effort scores throughout the tests, but that these increased at the same rate. There were no differences in the way the children’s breathing muscles responded to the tests. The reason for the higher overall effort scores in the overweight asthmatic children was that their muscles are already working harder than the other two groups before the experiment due to the changes that occur in the lung with increased weight. It was then concluded that overweight asthmatic children do not have differences in their awareness of breathing effort, but that their additional body mass means their muscles are already working harder.

This summary was produced by Sarah Ezzeddine, Year 13 student from Harris Academy Peckham and Neta Fibeesh, Year 13 student from JFS School, Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

Research summary – Talia Benjamin

Parasternal intercostal muscle activity during methacholine-induced bronchoconstriction
Victoria MacBean, Claire L. Pringle, Alan C. Lunt, Keith D. Sharp, Ashraf Ali, Anne Greenough, John Moxham and Gerrard F. Rafferty
Published in the journal Experimental Physiology, February 2017

Neural respiratory drive (NRD) is commonly used as a measure of respiratory function, as it measures the overall muscular effort required to breathe in the presence of the changes that occur in lung disease. Both bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing) and hyperinflation (over-inflation of the chest, caused by air trapped in deep parts of the lung) occur in lung disease and are known to have detrimental effects on breathing muscle activity. Electromyography (EMG) is a measure of electrical activity being supplied to a muscle and can be used to measure the NRD leaving the brain towards respiratory muscles (in this study the parasternal intercostals – small muscles at the front of the chest). This study aimed to research the individual contributions of bronchoconstriction and hyperinflation on EMG and the overall effectiveness of the EMG as an accurate marker of lung function.

A group of 32 young adults were tested as subjects for this study, all of which had lung function within normal limits at rest, prior to testing. The subjects inhaled increasing concentrations of the chemical methacholine to stimulate the contraction of airway muscles – imitating a mild asthma attack. Subjects’ EMG, spirometry (to measure airway narrowing) and IC (inspiratory capacity) was measured to test for hyperinflation. Detailed statistical testing was used to assess the relationships between all the measures.

The results show that obstruction of the airway was closely related to the increase in EMG, however inspiratory capacity was not related. The data suggests that the overinflation of the chest had less of an effect on the EMG than the airway diameter (bronchoconstriction). This helps advance the understanding of how EMG can be used to assess lung disease.

This summary was produced by Talia Benjamin, Year 13 student from JFS School, Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.