Open Access Open Badges Research article

Comparison of airway measurements during influenza-induced tachypnea in infant and adult cotton rats

Elman L Trias14, Arash Hassantoufighi2, Gregory A Prince3 and Maryna C Eichelberger2*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Allergy, Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine, Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC 20010, USA

2 Division of Viral Products, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

3 Virion Systems Inc, Rockville, MD 20850, USA

4 Current address: Kaiser Permanente, 2025 Morse Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95825, USA

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2009, 9:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-9-28

Published: 10 June 2009



Increased respiratory rate (tachypnea) is frequently observed as a clinical sign of influenza pneumonia in pediatric patients admitted to the hospital. We previously demonstrated that influenza infection of adult cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) also results in tachypnea and wanted to establish whether this clinical sign was observed in infected infant cotton rats. We hypothesized that age-dependent differences in lung mechanics result in differences in ventilatory characteristics following influenza infection.


Lung tidal volume, dynamic elastance, resistance, and pleural pressure were measured in a resistance and compliance system on mechanically-ventilated anesthestized young (14–28 day old) and adult (6–12 week old) cotton rats. Animals at the same age were infected with influenza virus, and breathing rates and other respiratory measurements were recorded using a whole body flow plethysmograph.


Adult cotton rats had significantly greater tidal volume (TV), and lower resistance and elastance than young animals. To evaluate the impact of this increased lung capacity and stiffening on respiratory disease, young and adult animals were infected intra-nasally with influenza A/Wuhan/359/95. Both age groups had increased respiratory rate and enhanced pause (Penh) during infection, suggesting lower airway obstruction. However, in spite of significant tachypnea, the infant (unlike the adult) cotton rats maintained the same tidal volume, resulting in an increased minute volume. In addition, the parameters that contribute to Penh were different: while relaxation time between breaths and time of expiration was decreased in both age groups, a disproportionate increase in peak inspiratory and expiratory flow contributed to the increase in Penh in infant animals.


While respiratory rate is increased in both adult and infant influenza-infected cotton rats, the volume of air exchanged per minute (minute volume) is increased in the infant animals only. This is likely to be a consequence of greater lung elastance in the very young animals. This model replicates many respiratory features of humans and consequently may be a useful tool to investigate new strategies to treat respiratory disease in influenza-infected infants.