Although anatomical abnormalities of the upper airway have been recorded in some patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), a muscle tone dysregulation also seems to have an important role in this disorder. Since habitual snoring is the initial stage of OSA, the structural characteristics of upper airway muscles (medium pharyngeal constrictor muscle [MPCM]) from 13 men (9 non-snorers and 4 habitual snorers) were studied. MPCM fibre structure in non-snorers was broadly similar to that in normal limb muscles, with the exception that fibre diameters were smaller for all fibre types. Compared with limb muscles, MPCM had a smaller proportion of type lib fibres and a higher proportion of types I and Ila fibres. MPCM in habitual snorers had an abnormal distribution of fibre types (low percentage of type I and type IIb fibres and high percentage of type IIa fibres) compared with non-snorers (p <0·001) and the type IIa fibres were hypertrophic. No myopathic or neurogenic changes were seen. Two possible hypotheses explain the abnormal distribution of fibre types in snorers. First, a constitutionally determined reduction of slow alphamotor neurons induces an adaptive transformation of type IIb to type IIa fibres and a hypertrophy of type IIa fibres; or, second, motor neurons change their patterns of discharge and, hence, of activation, and modify fibre-type distribution of MPCM as an adaptation to the anatomical characteristic of upper airway and habitual snoring.
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