Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : The current conventional view of intercostal muscle actions is based on the theory of Hamberger (1749) and maintains that as a result of the orientation of the muscle fibres, the external intercostals have an inspiratory action on the lung and the internal interosseous intercostals have an expiratory action. Recent studies in dogs, however, have shown that this notion is only approximate. In the present studies, the respiratory actions of the human external and internal intercostal muscles were evaluated by applying the Maxwell reciprocity theorem. Thus the orientation of the muscle fibres relative to the ribs and the masses of the muscles were first assessed in cadavers. Five healthy individuals were then placed in a computed tomographic scanner to determine the geometry of the ribs and their precise transformation during passive inflation to total lung capacity. The fractional changes in length of lines with the orientation of the muscle fibres were then computed to obtain the mechanical advantages of the muscles. These values were finally multiplied by muscle mass and maximum active stress (3.0 kg cm-2) to evaluate the potential effects of the muscles on the lung. The external intercostal in the dorsal half of the second interspace was found to have a large inspiratory effect. However, this effect decreases rapidly in the caudal direction, in particular in the ventral portion of the ribcage. As a result, it is reversed into an expiratory effect in the ventral half of the sixth and eighth interspaces. The internal intercostals in the ventral half of the sixth and eighth interspaces have a large expiratory effect, but this effect decreases dorsally and cranially. The total pressure generated by all the external intercostals during a maximum contraction would be -15 cmH2O, and that generated by all the internal interosseous intercostals would be +40 cmH2O. These pressure changes are substantially greater than those induced by the parasternal intercostal and triangularis sterni muscles, respectively.