Morphologic determinants of airway responsiveness in chronic smokers

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1996 Nov;154(5):1444-9. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.154.5.8912762.


Nonspecific bronchial hyperresponsiveness (NSBH) occurs in asthmatics and in smokers who have airway obstruction. NSBH may be caused by different mechanisms in these conditions. We hypothesized that NSBH in smokers was a consequence of the structural changes that occur in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lead to airway obstruction. We measured nonspecific bronchial responsiveness, assessed by PC20, in 77 smokers who had mild to moderate airflow obstruction prior to lung resection for a pulmonary nodule. We related airway responsiveness to baseline airway function (FEV1 % predicted), to functional (PLmax, PL90, and P-V curve shape) and morphometric (alveolar attachments) markers of lung elasticity as well as to thickening in small airways. Airway wall thickness, internal and external to the outer border of smooth muscle was quantified by plotting the square root of airway wall area versus a marker of airway size, airway internal perimeter (Pi). PC20 was significantly related to FEV1% predicted and PLmax. and when these functional parameters were controlled for, PC20 was also inversely related to airway wall thickness. There was also a trend for the most responsive patients to have fewer alveolar attachments per millimeter on the external perimeter of the airway walls. These data suggest that exaggerated nonspecific airway narrowing in COPD is secondary to structural changes caused by the disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology*
  • Airway Obstruction / pathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / etiology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / complications*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Smoking / adverse effects*