• morphometry;
  • conducting airways;
  • sheep


Although the lung is structurally complex, it is suitable for morphometric analysis of the structural determinants of lung function in health and disease. Analysis of the organized branching airways has been problematic because of the need to identify and classify airways before structural characteristics of different-order branches can be determined. Airway casts have been used to identify relationships between branches, measure some structural features, and develop mathematical models that describe simply the relationships between generations. However, cast preparation destroys surrounding tissue, including the airway wall, thus precluding analysis of these structural elements. We describe a new approach using tissue sections which combines the classification of airways into Strahler order (SO) with tissue structural analysis. Lung-tissue sections are prepared, and outer (OD) and inner (ID) diameters are determined over a wide range of airways. The line equation relating log OD vs. SO is determined using measured values for SO1 (terminal bronchioles) and SO8 (first branch bronchi). Mean ODs can then be calculated for each of the other SO groups, and measurements can be classified. Calculations can be made for the mean number of branches and airway lengths (given the log linear relationship of these factors with SO and morphometrically determined volume densities for airway lumen), and for individual airway resistance and total resistances for each SO. For an example, mean data are presented for airways in the adult sheep (n = 13). The methodology presented allows identification of subtle alterations in airway structures which may be affecting selected orders of airways, with specific implications for changes in lung function. Anat Rec 266:51–57, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.