Diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide correlates best with tissue volume from quantitative CT scanning analysis

Chest. 2015 Jun;147(6):1485-1493. doi: 10.1378/chest.14-1693.


Background: Quantitative analysis of high-resolution chest CT scan (QCT) is an established method for determining the severity and distribution of lung parenchymal destruction inpatients with emphysema. Diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (D(LCO)) is a traditional physiologic measure of emphysema severity and is probably influenced more by destruction of the alveolar capillary bed than by membrane diffusion per se. We reasoned that D(LCO) should correlate with tissue volume from QCT.

Methods: A total of 460 patients with upper-lobe-predominant emphysema were enrolled in the study. Th e mean (SD) of percent predicted values for FEV 1 , total lung capacity, and D(LCO) were 30.6% (8.0%), 129.5% (18.1%), and 6.7% (13.1%), respectively. QCT was performed using custom soft ware; the relationship between D(LCO) and various metrics from QCT were evaluated using Pearson correlation coefficients.

Results: On average, whole-body plethysmography volumes were higher by 841 mL compared with QCT-calculated total lung volume. However, there was a strong correlation between these measurements (r=0.824, P < .0001). D(LCO) correlated with total lung volume (r=0.314, P<.0001), total tissue volume (r=0.498, P<.0001), and percentage of lung with low density (-950 Hounsfield units) (r=-0.337, P<.0001).

Conclusions: In patients with severe emphysema, D(LCO) correlates best with total tissue volume,supporting the hypothesis that pulmonary capillary blood volume is the main determinant of D(LCO) in the human lung. Th e relationships between D(LCO) and various anatomic metrics of lung parenchymal destruction from QCT inform our understanding of the relationship between structure and function of the human lung.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blood Volume / physiology
  • Carbon Monoxide / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Plethysmography
  • Pulmonary Diffusing Capacity / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / metabolism*
  • Pulmonary Emphysema / pathology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • Total Lung Capacity / physiology


  • Carbon Monoxide