Mechanical significance of respiratory muscle activity in humans during halothane anesthesia

David O. Warner, Mark A. Warner, Erik L. Ritman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Prior human studies have shown that halothane attenuates activity in the parasternal intercostal muscle and enhances phasic activity in respiratory muscles with expiratory actions. This expiratory muscle activity could contribute to reductions in the functional residual capacity produced by anesthesia. Termination of this activity could contribute to the maintenance of inspiratory rib cage expansion. The purpose of this study was to estimate in humans the mechanical significance of expiratory muscle activity during halothane anesthesia and to search for the presence of scalene muscle activity during halothane anesthesia that might contribute to inspiratory rib cage expansion. Methods: Six subjects (3 males, 3 females) were studied while awake and during 1.2 MAC halothane anesthesia, both during quiet breathing and during carbon dioxide rebreathing. Respiratory muscle activity was measured using fine-wire electromyography electrodes. Chest wall configuration was determined using images of the thorax obtained by three- dimensional, fast computed tomography and respiratory impedance plethysmography. Functional residual capacity was measured by a nitrogen dilution technique. Measurements were obtained after paralysis with 0.1 mg/kg vecuronium and mechanical ventilation. Results: Phasic inspiratory activity was present in the scalene muscle of four anesthetized subjects during quiet breathing and all anesthetized subjects during rebreathing. Phasic inspiratory activity was present in the parasternal intercostal muscle during halothane anesthesia in only the three female subjects and was enhanced by rebreathing; parasternal intercostal muscle activity was never present in anesthetized males. During anesthesia with quiet breathing, phasic expiratory activity was observed in the transversus abdominis muscles of only the three male subjects. Despite these differences in the pattern of respiratory muscle use, the pattern of chest wall responses to rebreathing was similar between males and females. When expiratory muscle activity was present, paralysis increased the end-expiratory thoracic volume by expanding the rib cage, demonstrating that this activity reduced thoracic volume in these subjects. Changes in thoracic blood volume were significant determinants of the change in functional residual capacity produced by paralysis. Conclusions: In humans anesthetized with 1.2 MAC end-tidal halothane, there are marked interindividual differences in respiratory muscle use during quiet breathing that may be related to sex; phasic inspiratory scalene muscle and parasternal intercostal muscle activity may contribute to inspiratory rib cage expansion in some subjects; and when present, expiratory muscle activity significantly constricts the rib cage and contributes to reductions in functional residual capacity caused by halothane anesthesia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-321
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 1996


  • Anesthetics, volatile: halothane
  • Lung: breathing pattern; diaphragm; functional residual capacity; intrathoracic blood volume; rib cage
  • Measurement technique: dynamic spatial reconstructor; electromyography; fast computed tomography; respiratory impedance plethysmography
  • Muscle: diaphragm; parasternal intercostal; respiratory; scalene; transversus abdominis
  • Sex: female; male

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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