Development and Analysis of Patient-Based Complete Conducting Airways Models

PLoS One. 2015 Dec 11;10(12):e0144105. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144105. eCollection 2015.


The analysis of high-resolution computed tomography (CT) images of the lung is dependent on inter-subject differences in airway geometry. The application of computational models in understanding the significance of these differences has previously been shown to be a useful tool in biomedical research. Studies using image-based geometries alone are limited to the analysis of the central airways, down to generation 6-10, as other airways are not visible on high-resolution CT. However, airways distal to this, often termed the small airways, are known to play a crucial role in common airway diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other studies have incorporated an algorithmic approach to extrapolate CT segmented airways in order to obtain a complete conducting airway tree down to the level of the acinus. These models have typically been used for mechanistic studies, but also have the potential to be used in a patient-specific setting. In the current study, an image analysis and modelling pipeline was developed and applied to a number of healthy (n = 11) and asthmatic (n = 24) CT patient scans to produce complete patient-based airway models to the acinar level (mean terminal generation 15.8 ± 0.47). The resulting models are analysed in terms of morphometric properties and seen to be consistent with previous work. A number of global clinical lung function measures are compared to resistance predictions in the models to assess their suitability for use in a patient-specific setting. We show a significant difference (p < 0.01) in airways resistance at all tested flow rates in complete airway trees built using CT data from severe asthmatics (GINA 3-5) versus healthy subjects. Further, model predictions of airways resistance at all flow rates are shown to correlate with patient forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) (Spearman ρ = -0.65, p < 0.001) and, at low flow rates (0.00017 L/s), FEV1 over forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) (ρ = -0.58, p < 0.001). We conclude that the pipeline and anatomical models can be used directly in mechanistic modelling studies and can form the basis for future patient-based modelling studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Airway Resistance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / anatomy & histology*
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Anatomic*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed

Grant support

This work was funded by the European Union Framework 7 AirPROM (Airway Disease Predicting Outcomes through Patient Specific Computational Modelling) project (Grant Agreement No. 270194). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.