Rationale: Unrecognized airway infection and inflammation in young children with cystic fibrosis (CF) may lead to irreversible lung disease; therefore early detection and treatment is highly desirable.
Objectives: To determine whether the lung clearance index (LCI) is a sensitive and repeatable noninvasive measure of airway infection and inflammation in newborn-screened children with CF.
Methods: Forty-seven well children with CF (mean age, 1.55 yr) and 25 healthy children (mean age, 1.26 yr) underwent multiple-breath washout testing. LCI within and between-test variability was assessed. Children with CF also had surveillance bronchoalveolar lavage performed.
Measurements and main results: The mean (SD) LCI in healthy children was 6.45 (0.49). The LCI was higher in children with CF (7.21 [0.81]; P < 0.001). The upper limit of normal for the LCI was 7.41. Fifteen (32%) children with CF had an elevated LCI. LCI measurements were repeatable and reproducible. Airway infection was present in 17 (36%) children with CF, including 7 (15%) with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Polymicrobial growth was associated with worse inflammation. The LCI was higher in children with Pseudomonas (7.92 [1.16]) than in children without Pseudomonas (7.02 [0.56]) (P = 0.038). The LCI correlated with bronchoalveolar lavage IL-8 (R(2) = 0.20, P = 0.004) and neutrophil count (R(2) = 0.21, P = 0.001). An LCI below the upper limit of normality had a high negative predictive value (93%) in excluding Pseudomonas.
Conclusions: The LCI is elevated early in CF, especially in the presence of Pseudomonas and airway inflammation. The LCI is a feasible, repeatable, and sensitive noninvasive marker of lung disease in young children with CF.