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An assessment of the effects of air pollutants on the respiratory system generally requires a measurement of lung function. Essentially all experimental protocols involving inhalation studies in man have assessed responses by indices of respiratory mechanics. This paper examines pulmonary function parameters utilized by clinical investigators (1) to detect bronchoconstriction induced during controlled pollutant exposures, (2) to evaluate effects of exposure, especially those involving the peripheral lung, and (3) to select participants for controlled pollutant studies. Even the most established tests of pulmonary function, the forced vital capacity in 1 s (FEV1) and airway resistance, have shortcomings. Inhalation to total lung capacity during measurements of FEV1 may alter airway tone, and changes in airway resistance may reflect large contributions from the upper airway. Recent, more sensitive tests developed to measure peripheral airway changes suffer from interpretation problems and poor reproducibility. Efforts to utilize pulmonary function data from controlled pollutant studies to develop exposure-response relationships are discussed.
air pollutants, pulmonary function tests, inhalation toxicology, airway obstruction, airway hyperreactivity, small airways function, air pollution
Associate professor of medicine and toxicology in radiation biology and biophysics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY