The principal function of the lungs is to transport oxygen. Carbon dioxide diffuses from the blood to the alveoli, both across thin alveolar membranes. The drawing and expulsion of air is driven by muscular action. In mammals, a large muscle, the diaphragm (in addition to the internal intercostal muscles) drives ventilation by periodically altering the intra-thoracic volume and pressure; by increasing volume and thus decreasing pressure, air flows into the airways down a pressure gradient, and by reducing volume and increasing pressure, the reverse occurs. During normal breathing, expiration is passive and no muscles are contracted (the diaphragm relaxes).

The human lung

The trachea divides into the two main bronchi that enter the roots of the lungs. The bronchi continue to divide within the lung, and after multiple divisions, give rise to bronchioles. The bronchial tree continues branching until it reaches the level of terminal bronchioles, which lead to alveolar sacs. Alveolar sacs are made up of clusters of alveoli. The individual alveoli are tightly wrapped in blood vessels, where gas exchange occurs. Deoxygenated blood from the heart is pumped through the pulmonary artery to the lungs, where oxygen diffuses into blood and is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the hemoglobin of the erythrocytes. The oxygen-rich blood returns to the heart via the pulmonary veins to be pumped back into systemic circulation.