Pulmonary Functional Imaging: Part 2-State-of-the-Art Clinical Applications and Opportunities for Improved Patient Care

Radiology. 2021 Jun;299(3):524-538. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2021204033. Epub 2021 Apr 13.


Pulmonary functional imaging may be defined as the regional quantification of lung function by using primarily CT, MRI, and nuclear medicine techniques. The distribution of pulmonary physiologic parameters, including ventilation, perfusion, gas exchange, and biomechanics, can be noninvasively mapped and measured throughout the lungs. This information is not accessible by using conventional pulmonary function tests, which measure total lung function without viewing the regional distribution. The latter is important because of the heterogeneous distribution of virtually all lung disorders. Moreover, techniques such as hyperpolarized xenon 129 and helium 3 MRI can probe lung physiologic structure and microstructure at the level of the alveolar-air and alveolar-red blood cell interface, which is well beyond the spatial resolution of other clinical methods. The opportunities, challenges, and current stage of clinical deployment of pulmonary functional imaging are reviewed, including applications to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary embolism, and pulmonary hypertension. Among the challenges to the deployment of pulmonary functional imaging in routine clinical practice are the need for further validation, establishment of normal values, standardization of imaging acquisition and analysis, and evidence of patient outcomes benefit. When these challenges are addressed, it is anticipated that pulmonary functional imaging will have an expanding role in the evaluation and management of patients with lung disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Media
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Lung Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Quality Improvement
  • Respiratory Function Tests


  • Contrast Media