Background: The distal lung is an important site of inflammation in asthma. Maximal midexpiratory flows and the ratio of maximal:partial flows are purported to reflect distal lung function.
Objective: We obtained contemporaneous transbronchial biopsy, spirometry, and plethysmography to describe more accurately the relationship between physiology and distal lung inflammation in asthma.
Methods: Ten patients with severe, persistent asthma with mean +/- SE FEV(1) of 2.8 +/- 0.2 L and overnight fall in FEV(1) of 22.8% +/- 3.8% underwent transbronchial biopsy, spirometry, maximal midexpiratory flows, maximal:partial ratio, and lung volumes, all at 4 am. Morphometric analysis was performed after immunohistochemistry for eosinophils, lymphocytes, macrophages, mast cells, and neutrophils.
Results: Maximal midexpiratory flows, maximal:partial ratio, FEV(1), and forced vital capacity were not significantly correlated with alveolar tissue inflammation. However, the degree of eosinophilic alveolar inflammation was significantly and positively correlated with both total lung capacity (Spearman rho=0.70; P=.03) and thoracic gas volume (rho=0.62; P=.05). Correlation between eosinophils and other lung volumes was not observed. Other inflammatory cell types did not correlate with lung volumes.
Conclusion: Purported physiologic measures of distal lung function are poorly correlated with histopathologic evidence of distal lung inflammation. Measurement of lung volumes more accurately reflects eosinophilic distal lung inflammation.