Vocal Folds Detect Ionic Perturbations on the Luminal Surface: An In Vitro Investigation

  • Mahalakshmi Sivasankar
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to Mahalakshmi Sivasankar, PhD, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, G-2D, Heavilon Hall, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907.
    Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
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  • Kimberly V. Fisher
    Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
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Published:February 07, 2007DOI:


      The homeostasis of fluid bathing the luminal surface of the vocal folds is important for phonation and laryngeal defense. Dehydration of the respiratory tract during mouth breathing can perturb the concentration of sodium and chloride ions in surface fluid. Exposure to dry air also increases the osmolarity of airway surface fluid. We hypothesized that viable vocal fold epithelium would detect changes in the ionic and osmotic composition of fluid on the luminal surface. Therefore, we examined bioelectric responses of vocal folds exposed to physiologically real, luminal ionic and osmotic challenges in vitro. The study used randomized factorial design with experimental and sham control groups. Fifty native ovine vocal folds were exposed to five challenges (ionic, osmotic, combined ionic-osmotic, and sham) on the luminal surface. Bioelectric measures of potential difference (PD), short-circuit current (ISC), and tissue resistance were assessed at prechallenge baseline, during challenge, and after removal of challenge. Ionic and combined ionic-osmotic challenges reduced PD and ISC (P<0.01). These reductions depended on the nature of the ionic challenge, were observed within 10 minutes, lasted for the duration of exposure, and were reversible after removal of the challenge. Conversely, sham or osmotic challenge did not alter bioelectric parameters over time (P>0.05). Viable ovine vocal fold epithelia detect ionic perturbations to the luminal surface. This sensitivity to luminal ionic challenge may be necessary to maintain the homeostasis of surface fluid.

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