Peripheral ventilation heterogeneity determines the extent of bronchoconstriction in asthma

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2017 Nov 1;123(5):1188-1194. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00640.2016. Epub 2017 Aug 10.


In asthma, bronchoconstriction causes topographically heterogeneous airway narrowing, as measured by three-dimensional ventilation imaging. Computation modeling suggests that peripheral airway dysfunction is a potential determinant of acute airway narrowing measured by imaging. We hypothesized that the development of low-ventilation regions measured topographically by three-dimensional imaging after bronchoconstriction is predicted by peripheral airway function. Fourteen asthmatic subjects underwent ventilation single-photon-emission computed tomography/computed tomography scan imaging before and after methacholine challenge. One-liter breaths of Technegas were inhaled from functional residual capacity in upright posture before supine scanning. The lung regions with the lowest ventilation (Ventlow) were calculated using a thresholding method and expressed as a percentage of total ventilation (Venttotal). Multiple-breath nitrogen washout was used to measure diffusion-dependent and convection-dependent ventilation heterogeneity (Sacin and Scond, respectively) and lung clearance index (LCI), before and after challenge. Forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) was 87.6 ± 15.8% predicted, and seven subjects had airway hyperresponsiveness. Ventlow at baseline was unrelated to spirometry or multiple-breath nitrogen washout indices. Methacholine challenge decreased FEV1 by 23 ± 5% of baseline while Ventlow increased from 21.5 ± 2.3%Venttotal to 26.3 ± 6.7%Venttotal (P = 0.03). The change in Ventlow was predicted by baseline Sacin (rs = 0.60, P = 0.03) and by LCI (rs = 0.70, P = 0.006) but not by Scond (rs = 0.30, P = 0.30). The development of low-ventilation lung units in three-dimensional ventilation imaging is predicted by ventilation heterogeneity in diffusion-dependent airways. This relationship suggests that acinar ventilation heterogeneity in asthma may be of mechanistic importance in terms of bronchoconstriction and airway narrowing.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Using ventilation SPECT/CT imaging in asthmatics, we show induced bronchoconstriction leads to the development of areas of low ventilation. Furthermore, the relative volume of the low-ventilation regions was predicted by ventilation heterogeneity in diffusion-dependent acinar airways. This suggests that the pattern of regional airway narrowing in asthma is determined by acinar airway function.

Keywords: airway hyperresponsiveness; asthma; peripheral airways; single-photon-emission computed tomography; ventilation heterogeneity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests / methods*
  • Bronchoconstriction / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Ventilation / physiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests / methods
  • Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography Computed Tomography / methods
  • Young Adult