Smoking-induced ventilation heterogeneity measured at the mouth via established washout indices [lung clearance index (LCI) and alveolar mixing efficiency (AME)] potentially results from unequal expansion, which can be quantified by computer tomography (CT), and structural changes down to the lung periphery, characterized by CT parametric response mapping indices [percentage of lung affected by functional small airway disease (PRMfSAD) and emphysema (PRMEmph)]. By combining CT imaging and nitrogen (N2) washout tests in smokers, we specifically examined the roles of unequal lung expansion and peripheral structure. We first extracted three-dimensional maps of local lung expansion from registered inspiratory/expiratory CT images in 50 smokers (GOLD 0-IV) to compute for each smoker the theoretical N2 washout concentration curve solely attributable to unequal local expansion. By a head-on comparison with washout N2 concentrations measured at the mouth in the same smokers supine, we observed that 1) LCI increased from 4.8 ± 0.2 (SD) to 6.6 ± 0.8 (SD) due to unequal lung expansion alone and further increased to 9.0 ± 1.5 (SD) independent of local expansion and 2) AME decreased (from 100% by definition) to 95 ± 2 (SD)% due to unequal expansion alone and further decreased to 75 ± 7(SD)% independent of local expansion. In a multiple regression between the washout indices and CT-derived PRMfSAD and PRMEmph, LCI was related to PRMfSAD (r = +0.58; P < 0.001), whereas AME was related to both PRMfSAD (rpartial = -0.44; P = 0.002) and PRMEmph (rpartial = -0.31; P = 0.033), in line with AME being dominated by alterations in peripheral structure. We conclude that smokers showing an increased LCI without corresponding AME decrease are predominantly affected by unequal lung expansion, whereas an AME decrease with a commensurate LCI increase indicates a smoking-induced alteration of peripheral structure.NEW & NOTEWORTHY A head-on comparison between imaging and multiple breath washout in supine smokers shows that computer tomography-measured unequal local lung expansion accounts for 50% or less of smoking-induced increase in ventilation heterogeneity. The contributions from unequal lung expansion and peripheral structure to the two main washout indices also explain their respective association with parametric response mapping indices.

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Journal of Applied Physiology
Biomedical Imaging Group Rotterdam

Verbanck, S.A.B. (Sylvia A B), Polfliet, M., Schuermans, D. (Daniel), Ilsen, B. (Bart), de Mey, J. (Johan), Vanderhelst, E. (Eef), & Vandemeulebroucke, J. (2020). Ventilation heterogeneity in smokers: role of unequal lung expansion and peripheral lung structure. Journal of Applied Physiology, 129(3), 583–590. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00105.2020