Rationale: Angiographic investigation suggests that pulmonary vascular remodeling in smokers is characterized by distal pruning of the blood vessels.
Objectives: Using volumetric computed tomography scans of the chest we sought to quantitatively evaluate this process and assess its clinical associations.
Methods: Pulmonary vessels were automatically identified, segmented, and measured. Total blood vessel volume (TBV) and the aggregate vessel volume for vessels less than 5 mm(2) (BV5) were calculated for all lobes. The lobe-specific BV5 measures were normalized to the TBV of that lobe and the nonvascular tissue volume (BV5/T(issue)V) to calculate lobe-specific BV5/TBV and BV5/T(issue)V ratios. Densitometric measures of emphysema were obtained using a Hounsfield unit threshold of -950 (%LAA-950). Measures of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease severity included single breath measures of diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide, oxygen saturation, the 6-minute-walk distance, St George's Respiratory Questionnaire total score (SGRQ), and the body mass index, airflow obstruction, dyspnea, and exercise capacity (BODE) index.
Measurements and main results: The %LAA-950 was inversely related to all calculated vascular ratios. In multivariate models including age, sex, and %LAA-950, lobe-specific measurements of BV5/TBV were directly related to resting oxygen saturation and inversely associated with both the SGRQ and BODE scores. In similar multivariate adjustment lobe-specific BV5/T(issue)V ratios were inversely related to resting oxygen saturation, diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide, 6-minute-walk distance, and directly related to the SGRQ and BODE.
Conclusions: Smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is characterized by distal pruning of the small blood vessels (<5 mm(2)) and loss of tissue in excess of the vasculature. The magnitude of these changes predicts the clinical severity of disease.