Pulmonary emphysema subtypes on computed tomography: the MESA COPD study

Am J Med. 2014 Jan;127(1):94.e7-23. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.09.020. Epub 2013 Oct 9.


Background: Pulmonary emphysema is divided into 3 major subtypes at autopsy: centrilobular, paraseptal, and panlobular emphysema. These subtypes can be defined by visual assessment on computed tomography (CT); however, clinical characteristics of emphysema subtypes on CT are not well defined. We developed a reliable approach to visual assessment of emphysema subtypes on CT and examined if emphysema subtypes have distinct characteristics.

Methods: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis COPD Study recruited smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and controls ages 50-79 years with ≥ 10 pack-years. Participants underwent CT following a standardized protocol. Definitions of centrilobular, paraseptal, and panlobular emphysema were obtained by literature review. Six-minute walk distance and pulmonary function were performed following guidelines.

Results: Twenty-seven percent of 318 smokers had emphysema on CT. Interrater reliability of emphysema subtype was substantial (K: 0.70). Compared with participants without emphysema, individuals with centrilobular or panlobular emphysema had greater dyspnea, reduced walk distance, greater hyperinflation, and lower diffusing capacity. In contrast, individuals with paraseptal emphysema were similar to controls, except for male predominance. Centrilobular, but not panlobular or paraseptal, emphysema was associated with greater smoking history (+21 pack-years P <.001). Panlobular, but not other types of emphysema, was associated with reduced body mass index (-5 kg/m(2); P = .01). Other than for dyspnea, these findings were independent of the forced expiratory volume in 1 second. Seventeen percent of smokers without COPD on spirometry had emphysema, which was independently associated with reduced walk distance.

Conclusions: Emphysema subtypes on CT are common in smokers with and without COPD. Centrilobular and panlobular emphysema, but not paraseptal emphysema, have considerable symptomatic and physiological consequences.

Keywords: Centrilobular; Computed tomography; Emphysema; Panlobular; Paraseptal.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Observer Variation
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / pathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / complications
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / etiology
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / pathology*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spirometry
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Walking