Journal of Anatomy

A comparative study of mammalian tracheal mucous glands

H. K. CHOI a1, W. E. FINKBEINER a2 and J. H. WIDDICOMBE a1a3c1
a1 Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, Oakland, California, USA
a2 Department of Pathology, University of California – Davis, USA
a3 Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California – San Francisco, USA


We have compared the distribution, numbers and volume of mucous glands in the tracheas of 11 mammalian species. No glands were present in the rabbit. The mouse only contained glands at the border between the trachea and larynx. In the rat, glands were commonest in the cephalad third of the trachea, but on average were much scarcer than in the larger species. Between species, there was a significant correlation between airway diameter and gland volume per unit surface area, suggesting that the rate of deposition of inhaled particles may increase in large airways. In the ventral portion of the trachea of about half the species, the glands were concentrated between the cartilaginous rings; in others they were evenly distributed over and between the rings. In most species in which the trachealis muscle attached to the internal surface of the cartilaginous rings, the glands were external to the muscle. In all species in which the muscle attached to the external surface of the cartilaginous rings, the glands were internal to the muscle. In the ox, goat, dog and sheep, the volume of glands per unit tracheal surface area was markedly greater in the ventral than the dorsal aspect of the trachea. The reverse was true of the pig. In humans, gland density in the 2 regions was similar. The frequency of gland openings was determined in the ox, goat, pig, dog and sheep tracheas, and ranged from 0.3 per mm2 in the dorsal portion of the sheep trachea to 1.5 per mm2 in the ventral portion of the ox trachea. For these 5 species, the volume of gland acini per unit luminal surface area varied linearly with the numbers of gland openings, with the volume of individual glands being constant at [similar] 120 nl.

(Accepted February 8 2000)

Key Words: Airway mucous glands; tracheal anatomy; airway mucus secretion.

c1 Correspondence to Dr J. H. Widdicombe, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, 747 52nd Street, Oakland CA 94609, USA. Tel : +1 (510) 450-7697; fax: +1 (510) 450-7910; e-mail: