Analysis of the alveolar shape in 3-D

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2023 Mar 1;324(3):L358-L372. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00069.2022. Epub 2023 Jan 31.


Mechanical forces affect the alveolar shape, depending on location and tissue composition, and vary during the respiratory cycle. This study performs alveolar morphomics in different lobes of human lungs using models generated from three-dimensional (3-D) micro-computed tomography (microCT) images. Cylindrical tissue samples (1.6 cm × 2 cm) were extracted from two nontransplantable donor lungs (one ex-smoker and one smoker, 3 samples per subject) that were air-inflated and frozen solid in liquid nitrogen vapor. Samples were scanned with microCT (11 µm/voxel). Within representative cubic regions of interest (5.5 mm edge length), alveoli were segmented to produce corresponding 3-D models from which quantitative data were obtained. The surface of segmented alveoli (n_alv_total = 23,587) was divided into individual planar surfaces (facets) and angles between facet normals were calculated. Moreover, the number of neighboring alveoli was estimated for every alveolus. In this study, we examined intraindividual differences in alveolar morphology, which were reproducible in the lungs of two subjects. The main aspects are higher mean alveolar volumes (v_alv: 6.64 × 106 and 6.63 × 106 µm3 vs. 5.78 × 106 and 6.29 × 106 µm3) and surface sizes (s_alv: 0.19 and 0.18 mm2 vs. 0.17 mm2 in both lower lobes) in both upper lung lobes compared with the lower lobes. An increasing number of facets (f_alv) from top to bottom (12 and 14 in the upper lobes; 14 and 15 in the lower lobes), as well as a decreasing number of alveolar neighbors (nei_alv: 9 and 8 in the upper lobes; 8 and 7 in the lower lobes) from the upper lobes to the lower lobes were observed. We could observe an increasing ratio of alveolar entrance size to the surface size of the alveoli from top to bottom (S_ratio_alv: 0.71 and 0.64 in the upper lobes, 0.73 and 0.70 in the lower lobes). The angles between facet normals (ang_alv) were larger in the upper lobes (67.72° and 62.44°) of both lungs than in the lower lobes (66.19° and 61.30°). By using this new approach of analyzing alveolar 3-D data, which enables the estimation of facet, neighbor, and shape characteristics, we aimed to establish the baseline measures for in-depth studies of mechanical conditions and morphology.

Keywords: alveolar morphomics; image analysis; lung imaging; microCT lung data; semiautomatic image segmentation.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lung Volume Measurements
  • Lung* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pulmonary Alveoli* / diagnostic imaging
  • X-Ray Microtomography

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.19213710
  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.21423012