Detection of interstitial lung disease in systemic sclerosis through partitioning of lung transfer for carbon monoxide

Respiration. 2012;84(6):461-8. doi: 10.1159/000335473. Epub 2012 Jan 31.


Background: Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a leading cause of death in systemic sclerosis (SSc). Sensitivities and specificities of the current pulmonary function tests (PFTs) for the detection of ILD in SSc are poor.

Objective: To determine whether diffusion capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide (DLCO) partitioned into membrane conductance for CO (DmCO) and alveolar capillary blood volume (Vcap) could provide more sensitive clues to ILD than current PFTs.

Methods: DmCO and Vcap were determined in 35 consecutive SSc patients in whom a cardiac and/or pulmonary vascular abnormality had been rejected according to the recommended screening algorithm. ILD was diagnosed with high-resolution computed tomography.

Results: Among 35 patients [6 men; median age (first-third quartile) 61.9 years (49.5-67.7)], 22 had no ILD and 13 did. Total lung capacity (TLC), vital capacity and DLCO [percentage of predicted value (%pred)] were lower in patients with ILD [86 (82-103) vs. 106 (98-112), p = 0.01, 96 (88-112) vs. 114 (104-121), p = 0.04, and 67 (59-81) vs. 80 (71-94), p = 0.02, respectively]. DmCO (%pred) and the ratio of DmCO to Vcap were much lower in patients with ILD [54 (48-72) vs. 83 (66-92), p < 0.001, and 0.22 (0.21-0.27) vs. 0.40 (0.35-0.53), p < 0.0001, respectively]. According to receiver operating characteristic analysis, the DmCO:Vcap ratio displayed higher sensitivity and specificity than TLC, vital capacity and DLCO in identifying ILD in our study group (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: These results suggest that the partitioning of DLCO might be of interest for identifying ILD in SSc patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Volume
  • Breath Tests
  • Capillaries
  • Carbon Monoxide / metabolism*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnosis*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Diffusing Capacity*
  • ROC Curve
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Carbon Monoxide