Relative contribution of various airway protective mechanisms to prevention of aspiration during swallowing

Bidyut K. Medda, Mark Kern, Junlong Ren, Pengyan Xie, Seckin O. Ulualp, Ivan M. Lang, Reza Shaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Deglutitive airway protective mechanisms include glottal closure, epiglottal descent, and anterosuperior displacement of the larynx. Aspiration of swallowed material may occur during the pre-, intra-, or postpharyngeal phase of swallowing. Our objectives were to determine the relative contribution of the airway protective mechanisms during each phase of swallow in 14 decerebrated cats before and after suprahyoid myotomy, epiglottectomy, and unilateral cordectomy. After myotomy, superior excursions of the hyoid, thyroid, and cricoid cartilages and anteroposterior diameter of maximum upper esophageal spincter (UES) opening were significantly diminished, but the incidence of pharyngeal residue significantly increased (P < 0.05). No aspiration was observed in the predeglutitive period. After myotomy, the incidence of aspiration significantly increased in both intraand postdeglutitive periods. Epiglottectomy did not alter aspiration incidence, but unilateral cordectomy resulted in a 100% incidence of intra- and postdeglutitive aspiration. In conclusion, glottal closure constitutes the primary mechanism for prevention of intra- and postdeglutitive aspiration, but laryngeal elevation may assist this function. Bolus pulsion without laryngeal distraction can open the UES, but at risk of aspiration due to decreased pharyngeal clearance. The epiglottis provides no apparent airway protection during any phase of swallowing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G933-G939
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number6 47-6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2003


  • Epiglottis, larynx
  • Suprahyoid muscles
  • Vocal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)


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