1 Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine2 UAB Lung Imaging Core3 UAB Lung Health Center, and6 Department of Radiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama4 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa; and5 Department of Radiology, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa
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Rationale:A substantial proportion of subjects without overt airflow obstruction have significant respiratory morbidity and structural abnormalities as visualized by computed tomography. Whether regions of the lung that appear normal using traditional computed tomography criteria have mild disease is not known.Objectives:To identify subthreshold structural disease in normal-appearing lung regions in smokers.Methods:We analyzed 8,034 subjects with complete inspiratory and expiratory computed tomographic data participating in the COPDGene Study, including 103 lifetime nonsmokers. The ratio of the mean lung density at end expiration (E) to end inspiration (I) was calculated in lung regions with normal density (ND) by traditional thresholds for mild emphysema (−910 Hounsfield units) and gas trapping (−856 Hounsfield units) to derive the ND-E/I ratio. Multivariable regression analysis was used to measure the associations between ND-E/I, lung function, and respiratory morbidity.Measurements and Main Results:The ND-E/I ratio was greater in smokers than in nonsmokers, and it progressively increased from mild to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease severity. A proportion of 26.3% of smokers without airflow obstruction had ND-E/I greater than the 90th percentile of normal. ND-E/I was independently associated with FEV1 (adjusted β = −0.020; 95% confidence interval [CI], −0.032 to −0.007; P = 0.001), St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire scores (adjusted β = 0.952; 95% CI, 0.529 to 1.374; P < 0.001), 6-minute-walk distance (adjusted β = −10.412; 95% CI, −12.267 to −8.556; P < 0.001), and body mass index, airflow obstruction, dyspnea, and exercise capacity index (adjusted β = 0.169; 95% CI, 0.148 to 0.190; P < 0.001), and also with FEV1 change at follow-up (adjusted β = −3.013; 95% CI, −4.478 to −1.548; P = 0.001).Conclusions:Subthreshold gas trapping representing mild small airway disease is prevalent in normal-appearing lung regions in smokers without airflow obstruction, and it is associated with respiratory morbidity.Clinical trial registered with www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT00608764).