The volume and severity of pulmonary emphysema in individual lungs were measured by means of quantitative computed tomography (CT) studies in 28 patients (14 women, 14 men, median age 65 yr) who underwent either bilateral (n = 15) or unilateral (n = 13) lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). Spirometric, total body plethysmographic, and CT data (at TLC and RV) were correlated before and after LVRS. Lung volumes determined by CT correlated well with volumes obtained by total body plethysmography (p < 0.0001). For individual lungs after LVRS, CT-derived mean lung capacity decreased 13% and residual volume 20% (p < 0.00001 for each), while mean total functional lung volume (TFLV, defined as the volume of lung with CT attenuation greater than -910 Hounsfield units) increased 9% (p < 0.01), and the mean ratio of the air space to tissue space volume (V(AS)/V(TS)) decreased more at RV (23%) than at TLC (14%) (p < 0.0005 for each). In contrast, unilateral LVRS did not affect exhalation from the unoperated lung (2% reduction in RV, p = NS). The magnitude of the postoperative response (CT-derived TLC, RV, TFLV, V(AS)/V(TS)) of each operated lung was comparable for unilateral and bilateral LVRS. Thus, a lung's response to LVRS was independent from that of the contralateral lung. Moreover, postoperative alterations in TFLV and FEV1 correlated significantly (r = 0.80, p < 0.0001), which suggests that the expansion of functioning tissue may contribute to the mechanism by which LVRS palliates airway obstruction.