Study objective: To assess the effects of emphysema on the apex-to-base gradient of lung density (D) and lung mass (M) and to explore the relationship between M and lung function.
Methods: CT scans of whole lungs were performed in 12 healthy subjects and 29 patients who were breathing at functional residual capacity, after which lung function tests were performed. Whole D and M and regional D (RLD) and M (RLM) were calculated. The degree of emphysema was scored.
Results: The RLM for each height did not differ significantly between patients with disease and healthy subjects, while RLD was significantly lower in the patients with disease. A less marked nonlinear, increasing, craniocaudal gradient of D was observed in the group with disease, suggesting that the distension increases progressively from the apex to the base. RLD and RLM in the 40 to 90% lung height differed significantly among patients in the emphysema group with normal, high, and low M compared to the healthy subjects. M did not differ significantly between patients with centrilobular and panlobular emphysema, which was thought to stem from the marked variations in the results. Vital capacity was lower in the patients with low M.
Conclusions: The lower RLD in the group with low M was due to both lung overinflation and to tissue loss, while in the groups with high or normal M, it was due only to lung overinflation.