Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of brjindmedLink to Publisher's site
Br J Ind Med. 1980 November; 37(4): 337–362.
PMCID: PMC1008751

Deposition, retention, and clearance of inhaled particles.


The relation between the concentrations and characteristics of air contaminants in the work place and the resultant toxic doses and potential hazards after their inhalation depends greatly on their patterns of deposition and the rates and pathways for their clearance from the deposition sites. The distribution of the deposition sites of inhaled particles is strongly dependent on their aerodynamic diameters. For normal man, inhaled non-hygroscopic particles greater than or equal to 2 micrometers that deposit in the conducting airways by impaction are concentrated on to a small fraction of the surface. Cigarette smoking and bronchitis produce a proximal shift in the deposition pattern. The major factor affecting the deposition of smaller particles is their transfer from tidal to reserve air. For particles soluble in respiratory tract fluid, systemic uptake may be relatively complete for all deposition patterns, and there may be local toxic or irritant effects or both. On the other hand, slowly soluble particles depositing in the conducting airways are carried on the surface to the glottis and are swallowed within one day. Mucociliary transport rates are highly variable, both along the ciliated airways of a given individual and between individuals. The changes in clearance rates produced by drugs, cigarette smoke, and other environmental pollutants can greatly increase or decrease these rates. Particles deposited in non-ciliated airways have large surface-to-volume ratios, and clearance by dissolution can occur for materials generally considered insoluble. They may also be cleared as free particles either by passive transport along surface liquids or, after phagocytosis, by transport within alveolar macrophages. If the particles penetrate the epithelium, either bare or within macrophages, they may be sequestered within cells or enter the lymphatic circulation and be carried to pleural, hilar, and more distant lymph nodes. Non-toxic insoluble particles are cleared from the alveolar region in a series of temporal phases. The earliest, lasting several weeks, appears to include the clearance of phagocytosed particles via the bronchial tree. The terminal phases appear to be related to solubility at interstitial sites. While the mechanisms and dynamics of particle deposition and clearance are reasonably well established in broad outline, reliable quantitative data are lacking in many specific areas. More information is needed on: (1) normal behaviour, (2) the extent of the reserve capacity of the system to cope with occupational exposures, and (3) the role of compensatory changes in airway sizes and in secretory and transport rates in providing protection against occupational exposures, and in relation to the development and progression of dysfunction and disease.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (3.9M), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Hadfield EH. Damage to the human nasal mucosa by wood dust. Inhaled Part. 1970;2:855–861. [PubMed]
  • Acheson ED, Cowdell RH, Rang E. Adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity and sinuses in England and Wales. Br J Ind Med. 1972;29(1):21–30. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Andersen HC. Eksogene årsager til cancer cavi nasi. Ugeskr Laeger. 1975 Oct 27;137(44):2567–2571. [PubMed]
  • Albert RE, Lippmann M, Briscoe W. The characteristics of bronchial clearance in humans and the effects of cigarette smoking. Arch Environ Health. 1969 May;18(5):738–755. [PubMed]
  • Yeates DB, Aspin N, Bryan AC, Levison H. Regional clearance of ions from the airways of the lung. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1973 Apr;107(4):602–608. [PubMed]
  • CRIDER WL, MILBURN RH, MORTON SD. The retention of hygroscopic dusts in the human lungs. AMA Arch Ind Health. 1957 Jan;15(1):59–62. [PubMed]
  • Matsuba K, Thurlbeck WM. The number and dimensions of small airways in nonemphysematous lungs. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1971 Oct;104(4):516–524. [PubMed]
  • Lapp NL, Hankinson JL, Amandus H, Palmes ED. Variability in the size of airspaces in normal human lungs as estimated by aerosols. Thorax. 1975 Jun;30(3):293–299. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • DALHAMN T. Mucous flow and ciliary activity in the trachea of healthy rats and rats exposed to respiratory irritant gases (SO2, H3N, HCHO): a functional and morphologic (light microscopic and electron microscopic) study, with special reference to technique. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1956;36(123):1–161. [PubMed]
  • Thomson ML, Pavia D. Particle penetration and clearance in the human lung. Results in healthy subjects and subjects with chronic bronchitis. Arch Environ Health. 1974 Oct;29(4):214–219. [PubMed]
  • Love RG, Muir DC, Sweetland KF. Aerosol deposition in the lungs of coalworkers. Inhaled Part. 1970;1:131–139. [PubMed]
  • Love RG, Muir DC. Aerosol deposition and airway obstruction. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1976 Nov;114(5):891–897. [PubMed]
  • Hankinson JL, Palmes ED, Lapp NL. Pulmonary air space size in coal miners. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1979 Mar;119(3):391–397. [PubMed]
  • Stuart BO. Deposition of inhaled aerosols. Arch Intern Med. 1973 Jan;131(1):60–73. [PubMed]
  • LANDAHL HD, TRACEWELL TN, LASSEN WH. On the retention of airborne particulates in the human lung: II. AMA Arch Ind Hyg Occup Med. 1951 Apr;3(4):359–366. [PubMed]
  • LANDAHL HD, TRACEWELL TN, LASSEN WH. Retention of air-borne particulates in the human lung. III. AMA Arch Ind Hyg Occup Med. 1952 Dec;6(6):508–511. [PubMed]
  • ALTSHULER B, YARMUS L, PALMES ED, NELSON N. Aerosol deposition in the human respiratory tract. I. Experimental procedures and total deposition. AMA Arch Ind Health. 1957 Apr;15(4):293–303. [PubMed]
  • Giacomelli-Maltoni G, Melandri C, Prodi V, Tarroni G. Deposition efficiency of monodisperse particles in human respiratory tract. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1972 Sep;33(9):603–610. [PubMed]
  • Muir DC, Davies CN. The deposition of 0.5 microns diameter aerosols in the lungs of man. Ann Occup Hyg. 1967 Jul;10(3):161–174. [PubMed]
  • Davies CN, Heyder J, Subba Ramu MC. Breathing of half-micron aerosols. I. Experimental. J Appl Physiol. 1972 May;32(5):591–600. [PubMed]
  • Yu CP. A two-component theory of aerosol deposition in lung airways. Bull Math Biol. 1978;40(6):693–706. [PubMed]
  • Lippmann M, Albert RE. The effect of particle size on the regional deposition of inhaled aerosols in the human respiratory tract. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1969 May-Jun;30(3):257–275. [PubMed]
  • Schlesinger RB, Lippmann M. Particle deposition in casts of the human upper tracheobronchial tree. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1972 Apr;33(4):237–251. [PubMed]
  • Schlesinger RB, Lippmann M. Selective particle deposition and bronchogenic carcinoma. Environ Res. 1978 Jun;15(3):424–431. [PubMed]
  • DAVIES CN. Dust sampling and lung disease. Br J Ind Med. 1952 Apr;9(2):120–126. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • LANDAHL HD. Particle removal by the respiratory system note on the removal of airborne particulates by the human respiratory tract with particular reference to the role of diffusion. Bull Math Biophys. 1963 Mar;25:29–39. [PubMed]
  • Albert RE, Lippmann M, Peterson HT, Jr, Berger J, Sanborn K, Bohning D. Bronchial deposition and clearance of aerosols. Arch Intern Med. 1973 Jan;131(1):115–127. [PubMed]
  • Tucker AD, Wyatt JH, Undery D. Clearance of inhaled particles from alveoli by normal interstitial drainage pathways. J Appl Physiol. 1973 Nov;35(5):719–732. [PubMed]
  • Wanner A. Clinical aspects of mucociliary transport. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 Jul;116(1):73–125. [PubMed]
  • Horsfield K, Dart G, Olson DE, Filley GF, Cumming G. Models of the human bronchial tree. J Appl Physiol. 1971 Aug;31(2):207–217. [PubMed]
  • Breeze RG, Wheeldon EB. The cells of the pulmonary airways. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 Oct;116(4):705–777. [PubMed]
  • Macklem PT, Proctor DF, Hogg JC. The stability of peripheral airways. Respir Physiol. 1970 Jan;8(2):191–203. [PubMed]
  • Yeates DB, Aspin N. A mathematical description of the airways of the human lungs. Respir Physiol. 1978 Jan;32(1):91–104. [PubMed]
  • Morrow PE, Gibb FR, Gazioglu KM. A study of particulate clearance from the human lungs. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1967 Dec;96(6):1209–1221. [PubMed]
  • zum GOTTESBERGE AM, KOBURG E. [Autoradiographical investigations of cell formation in the respiratory tract, eustachian tube, middle ear and external auditory canal]. Acta Otolaryngol. 1963 Mar-Apr;56:353–361. [PubMed]
  • Sturgess JM. The mucous lining of major bronchi in the rabbit lung. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 May;115(5):819–827. [PubMed]
  • Van As A. Pulmonary airway clearance mechanisms: a reappraisal. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 May;115(5):721–726. [PubMed]
  • Gastineau RM, Walsh PJ, Underwood N. Thickness of bronchial epithelium with relation to exposure to radon. Health Phys. 1972 Dec;23(6):857–860. [PubMed]
  • REID L. Measurement of the bronchial mucous gland layer: a diagnostic yardstick in chronic bronchitis. Thorax. 1960 Jun;15:132–141. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Yeates DB, Aspin N, Levison H, Jones MT, Bryan AC. Mucociliary tracheal transport rates in man. J Appl Physiol. 1975 Sep;39(3):487–495. [PubMed]
  • Foster WM, Bergofsky EH, Bohning DE, Lippmann M, Albert RE. Effect of adrenergic agents and their mode of action on mucociliary clearance in man. J Appl Physiol. 1976 Aug;41(2):146–152. [PubMed]
  • Jones R, Reid L. Secretory cells and their glycoproteins in health and disease. Br Med Bull. 1978 Jan;34(1):9–16. [PubMed]
  • Last JA, Jennings MD, Schwartz LW, Cross CE. Glycoprotein secretion by tracheal explants cultured from rats exposed to ozone. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 Oct;116(4):695–703. [PubMed]
  • Ross SM, Corrsin S. Results of an analytical model of mucociliary pumping. J Appl Physiol. 1974 Sep;37(3):333–340. [PubMed]
  • Cammer P, Strandberg K, Philipson K. Increased mucociliary transport by cholinergic stimulation. Arch Environ Health. 1974 Oct;29(4):220–224. [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Strandberg K, Philipson K. Increased mucociliary transport by adrenergic stimulation. Arch Environ Health. 1976 Mar-Apr;31(2):79–82. [PubMed]
  • Pavia D, Thomson ML. Inhibition of mucociliary clearance from the human lung by hyoscine. Lancet. 1971 Feb 27;1(7696):449–450. [PubMed]
  • Forbes AR. Halothane depresses mucociliary flow in the trachea. Anesthesiology. 1976 Jul;45(1):59–63. [PubMed]
  • Landa JF, Hirsch JA, Lebeaux MI. Effects of topical and general anesthetic agents on tracheal mucous velocity of sheep. J Appl Physiol. 1975 May;38(5):946–948. [PubMed]
  • Widdicombe JG. Control of secretion of tracheobronchial mucus. Br Med Bull. 1978 Jan;34(1):57–61. [PubMed]
  • Nadel JA. Autonomic control of airway smooth muscle and airway secretions. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 Jun;115(6 Pt 2):117–126. [PubMed]
  • Albert RE, Spiegelman JR, Shatsky S, Lippmann M. The effect of acute exposure to cigarette smoke on bronchial clearance in the miniature donkey. Arch Environ Health. 1969 Jan;18(1):30–41. [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Philipson K, Arvidsson T. Cigarette smoking in man. Short-term effect on mucociliary transport. Arch Environ Health. 1971 Dec;23(6):421–426. [PubMed]
  • Lourenço RV, Klimek MF, Borowski CJ. Deposition and clearance of 2 micron particles in the tracheobronchial tree of normal subjects--smokers and nonsmokers. J Clin Invest. 1971 Jul;50(7):1411–1420. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Thomson ML, Pavia D. Long-term tobacco smoking and mucociliary clearance from the human lung in health and respiratory impairment. Arch Environ Health. 1973 Feb;26(2):86–89. [PubMed]
  • Pavia D, Short MD, Thomson ML. No demonstrable long term effects of cigarette smoking on the mucociliary mechanism of the human lung. Nature. 1970 Jun 27;226(5252):1228–1231. [PubMed]
  • Sanchis J, Dolovich M, Rossman C, Wilson W, Newhouse M. Pulmonary mucociliary clearance in cystic fibrosis. N Engl J Med. 1973 Mar 29;288(13):651–654. [PubMed]
  • Wolff RK, Dolovich M, Rossman CM, Newhouse MT. Sulfur dioxide and tracheobronchial clearance in man. Arch Environ Health. 1975 Nov;30(11):521–527. [PubMed]
  • Pavia D, Thomson M, Shannon HS. Aerosol inhalation and depth of deposition in the human lung. The effect of airway obstruction and tidal volume inhaled. Arch Environ Health. 1977 May-Jun;32(3):131–137. [PubMed]
  • Pavia D, Thomson ML, Clarke SW. Enhanced clearance of secretions from the human lung after the administration of hypertonic saline aerosol. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1978 Feb;117(2):199–203. [PubMed]
  • Lopez-Vidriero MT, Reid L. Bronchial mucus in health and disease. Br Med Bull. 1978 Jan;34(1):63–74. [PubMed]
  • Albert RE, Berger J, Sanborn K, Lippmann M. Effects of cigarette smoke components on bronchial clearance in the donkey. Arch Environ Health. 1974 Aug;29(2):96–101. [PubMed]
  • Short-term effects of cigarette smoking on bronchial clearance in humans. Arch Environ Health. 1975 Jul;30(7):361–367. [PubMed]
  • Bohning DE, Albert RE, Lippmann M, Foster WM. Tracheobronchial particle deposition and clearance. A study of the effects of cigarette smoking in monozygotic twins. Arch Environ Health. 1975 Sep;30(9):457–462. [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Philipson K. Tracheobronchial clearance in smoking-discordant twins. Arch Environ Health. 1972 Jul;25(1):60–63. [PubMed]
  • Albert RE, Alessandro D, Lippmann M, Berger J. Long-term smoking in th donkey. Effect on tracheobronchial particle clearance. Arch Environ Health. 1971 Jan;22(1):12–19. [PubMed]
  • Spiegelman JR, Hanson GD, Lazarus A, Bennett RJ, Lippmann M, Albert RE. Effect of acute sulfur dioxide exposure on bronchial clearance in the donkey. Arch Environ Health. 1968 Sep;17(3):321–326. [PubMed]
  • Fairchild GA, Kane P, Adams B, Coffin D. Sulfuric acid and streptococci clearance from respiratory tracts of mice. Arch Environ Health. 1975 Nov;30(11):538–545. [PubMed]
  • Schlesinger RB, Lippmann M, Albert RE. Effects of short-term exposures to sulfuric acid and ammonium sulfate aerosols upon bronchial airway function in the donkey. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1978 Apr;39(4):275–286. [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Helström PA, Philipson K. Carbon dust and mucociliary transport. Arch Environ Health. 1973 Jun;26(6):294–296. [PubMed]
  • Andersen I, Lundqvist GR, Proctor DF, Swift DL. Human response to controlled levels of inert dust. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1979 Apr;119(4):619–627. [PubMed]
  • HILDING AC. Experimental studies on some little understood aspects of the physiology of the respiratory tract and their clinical importance. Trans Am Acad Ophthalmol Otolaryngol. 1961 Jul-Aug;65:475–495. [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Mossberg B, Philipson K. Tracheobronchial clearance and chronic obstructive lung disease. Scand J Respir Dis. 1973;54(5):272–281. [PubMed]
  • Luchsinger PC, LaGarde B, Kilfeather JE. Particle clearance from the human tracheobronchial tree. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1968 Jun;97(6):1046–1050. [PubMed]
  • Sturgess JM, Palfrey AJ, Reid L. The viscosity of bronchial secretion. Clin Sci. 1970 Jan;38(1):145–156. [PubMed]
  • Yeates DB, Sturgess JM, Kahn SR, Levison H, Aspin N. Mucociliary transport in trachea of patients with cystic fibrosis. Arch Dis Child. 1976 Jan;51(1):28–33. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Camner P, Jarstrand C, Philipson K. Tracheobronchial clearance in patients with influenza. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1973 Jul;108(1):131–135. [PubMed]
  • Sasaki Y, Togo Y, Wagner HN, Jr, Hornick RB, Schwartz AR, Proctor DF. Mucociliary function during experimentally induced rhinovirus infection in man. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 1973 Mar-Apr;82(2):203–211. [PubMed]
  • Hoorn B, Tyrrell DA. A new virus cultivated only in organ cultures of human ciliated epithelium. Arch Gesamte Virusforsch. 1966;18(2):210–225. [PubMed]
  • Iravani J. Clearance function of the respiratory ciliated epithelium in normal and bronchitic rats. Inhaled Part. 1970;1:143–148. [PubMed]
  • Reid L. Evaluation of model systems for study of airway epithelium, cilia, and mucus. Arch Intern Med. 1970 Sep;126(3):428–434. [PubMed]
  • Reid L. The bronchitic component in airways obstruction. Bull Physiopathol Respir (Nancy) 1973 Jul-Aug;9(4):913–923. [PubMed]
  • Bedrossian CW, Greenberg SD, Duran BS. Bronchial gland measurements: a continuing search for a "yardstick". Exp Mol Pathol. 1973 Apr;18(2):219–224. [PubMed]
  • Morrow PE. Alveolar clearance of aerosols. Arch Intern Med. 1973 Jan;131(1):101–108. [PubMed]
  • Morrow PE. Lymphatic drainage of the lung in dust clearance. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1972 Dec 29;200:46–65. [PubMed]
  • Brain JD. Free cells in the lungs. Some aspects of their role, quantitation, and regulation. Arch Intern Med. 1970 Sep;126(3):477–487. [PubMed]
  • Fisher MV, Morrow PE, Yuile CL. Effect of Freund's complete adjuvant upon clearance of iron-59 oxide from rat lungs. J Reticuloendothel Soc. 1973 Jun;13(6):536–556. [PubMed]
  • Green GM, Jakab GJ, Low RB, Davis GS. Defense mechanisms of the respiratory membrane. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1977 Mar;115(3):479–514. [PubMed]
  • Green GM. Integrated defense mechanisms in models of chronic pulmonary disease. Arch Intern Med. 1970 Sep;126(3):500–503. [PubMed]
  • LABELLE CW, BRIEGER H. Synergistic effects of aerosols. II. Effects on rate of clearance from the lung. AMA Arch Ind Health. 1959 Aug;20(2):100–105. [PubMed]
  • LABELLE CW, BRIEGER H. The fate of inhaled particles in the early postexposure period. II. The role of pulmonary phagocytosis. Arch Environ Health. 1960 Nov;1:423–427. [PubMed]
  • Green GM. Alveolobronchiolar transport mechanisms. Arch Intern Med. 1973 Jan;131(1):109–114. [PubMed]
  • MACKLIN CC. Pulmonary sumps, dust accumulations, alveolar fluid and lymph vessels. Acta Anat (Basel) 1955;23(1):1–33. [PubMed]
  • Sorokin SP, Brain JD. Pathways of clearance in mouse lungs exposed to iron oxide aerosols. Anat Rec. 1975 Mar;181(3):581–625. [PubMed]
  • Bensch KG, Dominguez EA. Studies on the pulmonary air-tissue barrier. IV. Cytochemical tracing of macromolecules during absorption. Yale J Biol Med. 1971 Feb-Apr;43(4-5):236–241. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Morrow PE, Gibb FR, Davies H, Fisher M. Dust removal from the lung parenchyma: an investigation of clearance stimulants. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1968 May;12(3):372–396. [PubMed]
  • HEPPLESTON AG. The pathological anatomy of simple pneumokoniosis in coal workers. J Pathol Bacteriol. 1953 Jul;66(1):235–246. [PubMed]
  • HEPPLESTON AG. The disposal of coal and haematite dusts inhaled successively. J Pathol Bacteriol. 1958 Jan;75(1):113–126. [PubMed]
  • Cuddihy RG, Boecker BB. Controlled administration of respiratory tract burdens of inhaled radioactive aerosols in beagle dogs. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1973 Aug;25(4):597–605. [PubMed]
  • ALBERT RE, ARNETT LC. Clearance of radioactive dust from the human lung. AMA Arch Ind Health. 1955 Jul;12(1):99–106. [PubMed]
  • Cohen D, Arai SF, Brain JD. Smoking impairs long-term dust clearance from the lung. Science. 1979 May 4;204(4392):514–517. [PubMed]
  • Gupton ED, Brown PE. Chest clearance of inhaled cobalt-60 oxide. Health Phys. 1972 Dec;23(6):767–769. [PubMed]

Articles from British Journal of Industrial Medicine are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group