Peripheral and proximal lung ventilation in asthma: Short-term variation and response to bronchodilator inhalation

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021 Jun;147(6):2154-2161.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2020.11.035. Epub 2020 Dec 10.


Background: The relative involvement of the large and small airways in asthma is not clear. Hyperpolarized gas magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides high-resolution 3-dimensional images of ventilation distribution that can be quantified by the ventilated volume percentage (VV%) of the lungs.

Objective: Our aims were to (1) quantify the baseline reproducibility of VV%, (2) assess the ventilation distribution between the proximal and peripheral lungs, and (3) investigate regional ventilation response to bronchodilator inhalation in a cohort of patients with asthma.

Methods: A total of 33 patients with poorly controlled, moderate-to-severe asthma were scanned with hyperpolarized 3He MRI. Two image data sets were acquired at baseline, and 1 image data set was acquired after bronchodilator inhalation. Images were divided into proximal and peripheral regions for analysis.

Results: Bland-Altman analysis showed strong reproducibility of VV% (bias = 0.12%; LOA = -1.86% to 2.10%). VV% variation at baseline was greater in the periphery than in the proximal lung. The proximal lung was better ventilated than the peripheral lung. Ventilation increased significantly in response to bronchodilator inhalation, globally and regionally, and the ventilation increase in response to bronchodilator inhalation was greater in the peripheral lung than in the proximal lung. Hyperpolarized gas MRI was more sensitive to changes in response to bronchodilator inhalation (58%) than spirometry (33%).

Conclusion: The peripheral lung showed reduced ventilation and a greater response to bronchodilator inhalation than the proximal lung. The high level of baseline reproducibility and sensitivity of hyperpolarized gas MRI to bronchodilator reversibility suggests that it is suitable for low subject number studies of therapy response.

Keywords: Hyperpolarized gas MRI; asthma; bronchodilator response; peripheral; proximal; reproducibility; ventilation.