Early detection of progressive lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF) may lead to better treatment and prognosis. Routine lung function indices may be relatively insensitive markers of peripheral airway obstruction and alveolar collapse. We hypothesized that the single-breath diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) would change before tests of airway function in patients with CF. We assessed lung function longitudinally in 53 children with CF during a mean period of 3.8 years to determine whether the diffusion capacity of the lung becomes abnormal before more conventional indices of lung function do. Within patients, DLCO was slightly elevated and remained stable, while forced expired volume in 1 sec (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) declined progressively (mean individual decline, -1.8% and -0.8% of predicted). Cross-sectionally, this decline was faster (mean group decline -3.8% and -2.8% of predicted), indicating an additional cohort effect. Normalized diffusion capacity at an early stage of CF is slightly elevated and is preserved in spite of progressive obstructive lung disease. This can be attributed to alterations in pulmonary and bronchial circulation due to loss of function and/or number of alveolar units. Diffusion capacity at rest does not appear to be a suitable early marker of progressive deterioration of CF lung disease.
Copyright 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.