Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare quantitative and visual assessments of regional heterogeneity of emphysema and to investigate the influence of regional heterogeneity on pulmonary function in smoking-related emphysema.
Materials and methods: We developed an automatic computerized algorithm to quantitatively assess heterogeneity in the upper-lower, anterior-posterior, and central-peripheral directions. The emphysema index was plotted with a linear function (emphysema index slopes: slope of emphysema index in upper-lower direction, slope of emphysema index in anterior-posterior direction, and slope of emphysema index in central-peripheral direction) for consecutive 1-pixel-thick slices using volumetric CT data of 59 patients (58 men and one woman; mean age, 65.7 years). Emphysema index was defined as the percentage area of lung with attenuation values below -950 HU. Visual assessment was performed using a 5-point scoring system. Quantitative and visual assessments were compared. Multiple linear regression was performed to evaluate the influence of emphysema index and emphysema index slopes on the pulmonary function test.
Results: Quantitative and visual assessments were significantly correlated in both upper-lower (r(2) = 0.40 and r(2) = 0.67 for observers 1 and 2, respectively) and central-peripheral (r(2) = 0.51 and r(2) = 0.47, respectively) directions. Multiple linear regression revealed that emphysema index, slope of emphysema index in upper-lower direction, and slope of emphysema index in anterior-posterior direction were independent determinants of forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV(1)) (r(2) = 0.30; p < 0.001). Emphysema index and slope of emphysema index in upper-lower direction were independent determinants of the ratio of FEV(1) to forced vital capacity (FEV(1)/FVC) (r(2) = 0.32; p < 0.001). In addition to higher emphysema index, lower and posterior lung dominance was associated with a decrease in FEV(1) and FEV(1)/FVC.
Conclusion: Computerized, quantitative assessment using the emphysema index slope is comparable to visual assessment in the evaluation of regional heterogeneity of emphysema. In addition to the emphysema index, regional heterogeneity of smoking-related emphysema contributes to impairment of pulmonary function.