Subtyping COPD by Using Visual and Quantitative CT Imaging Features

Chest. 2020 Jan;157(1):47-60. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2019.06.015. Epub 2019 Jul 5.


Background: Multiple studies have identified COPD subtypes by using visual or quantitative evaluation of CT images. However, there has been no systematic assessment of a combined visual and quantitative CT imaging classification. We integrated visually defined patterns of emphysema with quantitative imaging features and spirometry data to produce a set of 10 nonoverlapping CT imaging subtypes, and we assessed differences between subtypes in demographic features, physiological characteristics, longitudinal disease progression, and mortality.

Methods: We evaluated 9,080 current and former smokers in the COPDGene study who had available volumetric inspiratory and expiratory CT images obtained using a standardized imaging protocol. We defined 10 discrete, nonoverlapping CT imaging subtypes: no CT imaging abnormality, paraseptal emphysema (PSE), bronchial disease, small airway disease, mild emphysema, upper lobe predominant centrilobular emphysema (CLE), lower lobe predominant CLE, diffuse CLE, visual without quantitative emphysema, and quantitative without visual emphysema. Baseline and 5-year longitudinal characteristics and mortality were compared across these CT imaging subtypes.

Results: The overall mortality differed significantly between groups (P < .01) and was highest in the 3 moderate to severe CLE groups. Subjects having quantitative but not visual emphysema and subjects with visual but not quantitative emphysema were unique groups with mild COPD, at risk for progression, and with likely different underlying mechanisms. Subjects with PSE and/or moderate to severe CLE had substantial progression of emphysema over 5 years compared with findings in subjects with no CT imaging abnormality (P < .01).

Conclusions: The combination of visual and quantitative CT imaging features reflects different underlying pathological processes in the heterogeneous COPD syndrome and provides a useful approach to reclassify types of COPD.

Trial registry:; No.: NCT00608764; URL:

Keywords: COPD; CT imaging; epidemiology; heterogeneity; subtype.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / classification*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / mortality
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Smokers*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*

Associated data