Physiology of the small airways: A gender difference?

Respir Med. 2008 Sep;102(9):1264-71. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2008.04.007. Epub 2008 Jul 9.


Small airways are affected in asthma, but gender differences have not been investigated. This study aims to assess whether gender differences exist in the extent of small airway involvement in asthma. Sixteen patients with mild-to-moderate asthma (seven males, median (range) age 39 (19-56) years, FEV(1)%predicted 89% (62-120), PC(20) Methacholine (MCh) 0.4 mg/mL (0.1-4.2)) participated in the study. MCh-induced air trapping at end-expiratory CT scans, alveolar and bronchial exhaled Nitric Oxide (eNO), Single-Breath N(2) closing volume, FEF(25-75%), FEF(50%) and % change in FVC at PC(20) adenosine-5'-monophosphate (AMP) and at PC(20)MCh were evaluated. Multiple regression analyses evaluated whether gender, body mass index and age were explanatory variables for the severity of air trapping. Males had significantly larger MCh-induced increases in low attenuation areas on CT than females, 6% (1-9) versus 2% (-1-7), p=0.012. Males had significantly more signs of MCh-induced air trapping in the non-dependent lung lobes than females. Male gender was the sole factor explaining higher values of MCh-induced signs of air trapping. Females had higher bronchial eNO values than males, 4 nL/s (2-7) versus 2 nL/s (1-4), p=0.04. Small airway involvement in asthma as reflected by MCh-induced air trapping at CT was significantly larger in males than females even in this relatively small group. Bronchial eNO, reflecting partially small airway inflammation, was higher in females than males. These data suggest that the small airways are affected differently in males and females with asthma. Males exhibit small airway involvement by attenuated small airway patency and females by small airway inflammation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / diagnostic imaging
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Breath Tests
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nitric Oxide / analysis
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / analysis
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / physiopathology*
  • Sex Factors*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III