Evidence that an internal schema adapts swallowing to upper airway requirements

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Abstract

Hyoid and laryngeal movements contribute to laryngeal vestibule closure and upper oesophageal sphincter opening during swallowing. Evidence of an internal sensorimotor scaling system allowing individuals to achieve these functional goals is lacking. In speech, speakers adjust their articulatory movement magnitude according to the movement distance required to reach an articulatory target for intelligible speech. We investigated if swallowing is similar in that movement amplitude may be scaled by the functional goal for airway protection during swallowing, rather than by head and neck size. We hypothesized that healthy individuals adapt to their own anatomy by adjusting hyo-laryngeal movements to achieve closure of the upper airway. We also investigated if individuals would automatically compensate for changes in their initial hyo-laryngeal positions and area when head position was changed prior to swallowing. Videofluoroscopy was performed in 31 healthy adults. Using frame-by-frame motion analysis, anterior and superior hyoid and laryngeal displacement, and hyo-laryngeal area were measured prior to and during swallowing. Kinematic measurements during swallowing were examined for relationships with pharyngeal neck length, and initial hyo-laryngeal positions, length and area before swallowing. During swallowing, individuals altered laryngeal elevation magnitude to exceed hyoid elevation based on hyo-laryngeal length before swallowing. Anterior laryngeal displacement was related to initial larynx distance from the spine, while hyoid elevation was predicted by pharyngeal neck length and initial hyoid distance from the mandible prior to the swallow. In conclusion, individuals automatically adapt hyo-laryngeal movement during swallowing based on targets required for closing the hyo-laryngeal area for safe swallowing.

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