Some recent advances on the study and understanding of the functional design of the avian lung: Morphological and morphometric perspectives

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64 Citations (Scopus)


The small highly aerobic avian species have morphometrically superior lungs while the large flightless ones have less well-refined lungs. Two parabronchial systems, i.e. the paleopulmo and neopulmo, occur in the lungs of relatively advanced birds. Although their evolution and development are not clear, understanding their presence is physiologically important particularly since the air- and blood flow patterns in them are different. Geometrically, the bulk air flow in the parabronchial lumen, i.e. in the longitudinal direction, and the flow of deoxygenated blood from the periphery, i.e. in a centripetal direction, are perpendicularly arranged to produce a cross-current relationship. Functionally, the blood capillaries in the avian lung constitute a multicapillary serial arterialization system. The amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchanged arises from many modest transactions that occur where air- and blood capillaries interface along the parabronchial lengths, an additive process that greatly enhances the respiratory efficiency. In some species of birds, an epithelial tumescence occurs at the terminal part of the extrapulmonary primary bronchi (EPPB). The swelling narrows the EPPB, conceivably allowing the shunting of inspired air across the openings of the medioventral secondary bronchi, i.e. inspiratory aerodynamic valving. The defence stratagems in the avian lung differ from those of mammals: fewer surface (free) macrophages (SMs) occur, the epithelial cells that line the atria and infundibula are phagocytic, a large population of subepithelial macrophages is present and pulmonary intravascular macrophages exist. This complex defence inventory may explain the paucity of SMs in the avian lung.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-152
Number of pages56
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Air sacs
  • Birds
  • Counter-current
  • Cross-current
  • Lung
  • Macrophages
  • Morphometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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