According to a previously published theoretical model of emphysema, the ratio of RV to TLC (RV/TLC) reflects the size mismatch between the hyperinflated lungs in the disease and the surrounding chest. The model suggests that RV/TLC is an important predictor of improvement in FVC and that increased FVC is an important determinant of increased FEV(1) after lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). We tested these predictions in 13 patients undergoing LVRS, in whom we made detailed measurements of lung mechanics. Using stepwise regression, we found that RV/TLC was the only preoperative independent predictor of the increase in FVC. Seventy percent of the increase in FEV(1) was attributable to increased FVC, with the remainder due to increased FEV(1)/FVC. In a separate group of 78 LVRS patients evaluated with standard preoperative pulmonary function tests, RV/TLC again was found to correlate with the increase in FVC, and changes in FEV(1) were also due largely to changes in FVC. However, RV/TLC was not predictive of the increase in FEV(1) among the group of 78 patients, because FEV(1)/FVC in patients with a low preoperative RV/TLC often increased despite little change in FVC. These findings support the proposed mechanism for increased FVC following LVRS. They also illustrate the limitations of the model, and suggest further hypotheses for selecting patients who may benefit from surgery.