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Original Research: PEDIATRIC PROBLEMS |

Lung Structure Abnormalities, But Normal Lung Function in Pediatric Bronchiectasis* FREE TO VIEW

Francesca Santamaria, MD; Silvia Montella, MD; Luigi Camera, MD; Cristiana Palumbo, MD; Luigi Greco, MD; Attilio L. Boner, MD
Author and Funding Information

*From the Departments of Pediatrics (Drs. Santamaria, Montella, and Greco) and Radiology (Drs. Camera and Palumbo), Federico II University, Naples, Italy; and the Department of Pediatrics (Dr. Boner), University of Verona, Verona, Italy.

Correspondence to: Attilio L. Boner, MD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Verona, Piazzale L. Scuro, 37134, Verona, Italy; e-mail: attilio.boner@univr.it



Chest. 2006;130(2):480-486. doi:10.1378/chest.130.2.480
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Background: Bronchiectasis is not considered to be uncommon in children anymore. The relationship between pulmonary function and severity of bronchiectasis is still controversial.

Study objectives: To assess the extent and severity of bronchiectasis through high-resolution CT (HRCT) scan score, and to correlate it with clinical, microbiological, and functional data.

Patients and methods: Forty-three white children with HRCT-diagnosed bronchiectasis were studied. Bronchiectasis extent, bronchial wall thickening severity, and bronchial wall dilatation severity were evaluated using the Reiff score. Clinical, microbiological, and spirometry results were related to total HRCT scan score and to subscores as well.

Results: The percentages of affected lobes were as follows: right lower lobe, 65%; middle lobe, 56%; left lower lobe, 51%; right upper lobe, 37%; lingula, 30%; and left upper lobe, 30% (χ2 = 18.4; p = 0.002). The mean (± SEM) HRCT score was 20 ± 2.6. Total score or subscores of bronchiectasis extent, bronchial wall thickening severity, and bronchial wall dilatation severity were not significantly related to FEV1 and FVC. Seventy-four percent of patients had asthma. The age at the onset of cough correlated with age at the time of the HRCT scan (p = 0.004) and with the presence of asthma (p = 0.01). Positive findings of deep throat or sputum cultures were found more frequently in atopic patients (p = 0.02) and asthmatic (p < 0.01) patients, and in children who were < 2 years of age at the onset of cough (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Normal lung function may coexist with HRCT scan abnormalities and does not exclude damage to the bronchial structure. Pulmonary function is not an accurate method for assessing the severity of lung disease in children with bronchiectasis.

Figures in this Article

Since the introduction of high-resolution CT (HRCT) scanning, especially the low-dose HRCT scan that provides good-quality lung images and can be safely obtained in patients at any age,1bronchiectasis has not been considered uncommon in children,211 even though quantitative estimates of the prevalence of bronchiectasis in children worldwide are lacking.6

The relationship between pulmonary function test (PFT) results and cystic fibrosis (CF) or non-CF bronchiectasis HRCT scan score is still controversial. Some studies9,1118 have reported a correlation between the severity of the bronchiectasis HRCT scan score and the reduction in lung function parameters, while others did not8,1922 or found only a fair-to-moderate association.23 We designed a study in a group of children with HRCT scan-proven bronchiectasis in which the primary aim was to correlate HRCT scan scores with clinical, microbiological, and PFT findings.

Patients

Forty-three white children (22 male children) with bronchiectasis previously identified by HRCT scanning1,24were enrolled into the study. They represented all of the subjects with bronchiectatis in the authors’ practice. Recurrent pneumonia, defined as at least two episodes of pneumonia in 1 year or more than three at any time,25was the referring diagnosis for 23 children (53%); in 8 children, recurrent pneumonia started after an episode of lower respiratory tract infection complicating pertussis (n = 4; 9% of the total) or measles (n = 4; 9% of the total). Other diagnoses were primary ciliary dyskinesia with situs viscerum solitus (11 patients; 26%), severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (3 patients; 7%), primary immunodeficiency (3 children; 7% [common variable immunodeficiency, in 2 patients; hyper-IgM syndrome, 1 female patient]), atypical CF phenotype (3 patients; 7%) diagnosed on the basis of two CF gene mutations (ΔF508/3849 + 10Kb C→T in 2 patients, and N1303K/D1152H in 1 patient), and normal sweat chloride and pancreatic sufficiency.26

Imaging Study

All children underwent chest HRCT scanning as a part of their routine follow-up. The HRCT scan was performed using a spiral instrument with 1.5 mm collimation and a 1.9-s scan time at 130 kV and 50 to 75 mA settings, and an interval of 8 to 10 mm at full inspiration with the patient in the supine decubitus position. Images were reconstructed using a bone algorithm. The extent of bronchiectasis, the severity of bronchial wall thickening, and the severity of bronchial wall dilatation were recorded on each bronchopulmonary segment using the Reiff scoring system.27 In this system, each lobe is scored for (1) the extent of involvement (0 to 2 points), (2) the severity of bronchial dilatation (0 to 3 points), and (3) the severity of bronchial wall thickening (0 to 3 points), giving a maximum total score of 48. The HRCT scan images were evaluated independently and in a blinded fashion by two pediatric radiologists. Both of them were unaware of the patient’s history or of any clinical result that could have biased their judgment of the HRCT scan imaging. All scans were presented in a random, independent order. Observations were made on six lobes, with the lingula being regarded separately, at a segmental level (18 segments). The sum of the segmental scores resulted in lobar scores, and the total score was obtained by adding together the lobar scores.

Lung Function, Microbiological, and Clinical Evaluation

FVC and FEV1, expressed as percent predicted, and the reversibility of airflow limitation after albuterol administration were evaluated in all cooperating patients.28 Therapy with short-acting or long-acting β2-agonists was stopped 6 or 12 h, respectively, before testing. Deep throat or sputum cultures were also obtained at the same time of HRCT scanning.

The following clinical data were evaluated: age at onset of persistent or recurrent cough; and the presence of asthma, diagnosed on the basis of cough and wheeze that required bronchodilator and antiinflammatory therapy, and of the demonstration of reversible airflow limitation in collaborating children. Atopy was evaluated by skin-prick tests, and the most common seasonal and perennial local allergens were tested, including house dust mites, dog and cat dander, Aspergillus fumigatus, Alternaria alternata, Graminaceae pollen mix, Artemisia vulgaris, Parietaria officinalis, and Olea europaea pollen. The ethics review board of the hospital approved the retrospective study, and did not require informed consent.

Statistical Analysis

The results were expressed as the mean ± SEM. Comparisons were made using the Mann-Whitney U test, the Fisher exact test, and the χ2 test. The Spearman rank correlation coefficient (ρ) and the Kendall τ-b coefficient assessed correlations among variables. Interobserver agreement was expressed as the κ coefficient.29 A two-sided p value of < 0.05 was significant. The data were analyzed with a statistical software program (SPSS-PC, release 11.5; SPSS; Chicago, IL).

The median (± SEM) age at HRCT scan was 8.2 ± 0.6 years (range, 0.08 to 15.4 years). Sixty-five percent (28 of 43 patients) had bilateral bronchiectasis, while patients with monolateral disease had right lung involvement (10 of 15 patients; 67%) or left lung involvement (5 of 15 patients; 33%). The percentages of lobes affected from most common to least frequent were as follows: right lower lobe, 65% (28 of 43 patients); middle lobe, 56% (24 of 43 patients); left lower lobe, 51% (22 of 43 patients); right upper lobe, 37% (16 of 43 patients); lingula, 30% (13 of 43 patients); and left upper lobe, 30% (13 of 43 patients) [χ2 = 18.4; p = 0.002]. Forty-four percent (19 of 43 patients) had three or more lobes involved, 26% (11 of 43 patients) had two lobes involved, and 30% (13 of 43 patients) had monolobar disease (χ2 = 3.6; p = 0.2). Only five patients (12% of the total) had evidence of bronchiectasis in all lobes. The total mean HRCT scan score was 20 ± 2.6. Interobserver agreement was excellent (κ = 0.97).

Spirometry was performed in all the 37 cooperating patients. The mean FVC and FEV1 were 89.6 ± 3.4% predicted and 79.2 ± 4% predicted, respectively. As shown in Table 1 , no significant correlation was found between the total HRCT scan score or subscores of the extent of bronchiectasis, the severity of bronchial wall thickening, the severity of bronchial wall dilatation, and FEV1 or FVC.

PFT results were also analyzed separately in patients with a total HRCT score of ≤ 20 (n = 24) or > 20 (n = 13). Even though there was a trend toward worse lung function in children with more severe bronchiectasis score, FVC or FEV1 in the two groups was not significantly different (FVC, 93% vs 83% predicted, respectively [p = 0.3]; FEV1, 83% vs 72% predicted, respectively [p = 0.2]) [Table 2] . Figure 1 illustrates the HRCT scan of a 14-year-old boy with bronchiectasis and history of recurrent pneumonia who showed normal lung function (FVC, 116% predicted; FEV1, 106% predicted) but significant structural damage (bronchiectasis total HRCT scan score, 39).

In 23% (10 of 43 patients), no organisms were isolated. Haemophilus influenzae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were the most frequently detected (46% and 33% of patients, respectively). Additional organisms included Staphylococcus aureus (23%), Streptococcus pneumoniae (14%), and Klebsiella pneumoniae (7%).

An analysis of the clinical data showed that the mean age at the onset of persistent or recurrent cough was 2.2 ± 0.4 years (range, 0.08 to 9 years). Seventy-four percent (32 of 43 children) also had asthma, experiencing at least two exacerbations per year prior to the HRCT scan. In patients with asthma, we found a mean FEV1 response to albuterol of 12.2 ± 0.6%.

Thirty percent of the study population (13 of 43 patients) had positive results of the skin-prick tests. The majority of atopic patients had positive culture findings (one vs nine, respectively; p = 0.02). The same was true in the 32 asthmatic children (positive culture findings, 29 patients; negative culture findings, 3 patients; p < 0.01). Positive culture results were also significantly higher in children < 2 years of age at the time of onset of cough (25 vs 4, respectively; p < 0.01) [Table 3] . In addition to this, we also found that positive culture findings and asthma were more common in these children than in those who were > 2 years of age at the onset of symptoms (25 vs 8, respectively [p < 0.01]; and 25 vs 7, respectively [p < 0.01]).

As expected, the lower the age at the onset of cough, the lower the age at HRCT scan (r = 0.4; p = 0.004), but also the higher the prevalence of asthma (r = 0.3; p = 0.01). However, the age at the onset of cough and the age at HRCT scan were not associated with the total HRCT scan score (r = −0.2, p = 0.1; and r = 0.1, p = 0.4, respectively).

In this study of pediatric bronchiectasis of different etiologies, we found that the disease may coexist with normal lung function since substantial structural damage was evident on HRCT scans in the absence of abnormalities found on PFT results. This supports the conclusion that although lung function measurement, combined with clinical symptoms, helps to suspect bronchiectasis, it is not a tool for the early identification of the disease,8,11 as previously found also in CF patients.1922

Conflicting results on the relationship between PFT results and bronchiectasis HRCT scan score have been published. A significant association has been demonstrated in 37 New Zealand non-CF children who showed significant abnormalities of both lung function and structure in approximately 50% of cases.9 However, these patients appeared to be more severely compromised than ours since bilateral bronchiectasis was found in 87% of patients, and bronchiectasis was detected in all lobes in 20% of the patients. A similar correlation was reported by an additional study11 of 16 children with postinfectious bronchiectasis, or with CF or primary ciliary dyskinesia-associated bronchiectasis. However, in this study spirometry results were normal in all but two children, the vast majority of patients had slightly abnormal HRCT scan findings, and finally the only two children with the most severe HRCT scan score showed normal FEV1 values.

Conversely, the HRCT score correlated poorly with PFT results in 27 Aboriginal Australian children with bronchiectasis due to recurrent pneumonia.8 Our data confirmed this finding in a larger sample of patients. A possible explanation to our observation includes the evidence of mild-to-moderate HRCT scan structural changes (resulting in a total score of ≤ 20) in 65% of our patients who also performed PFTs and the localized nature of the structural changes in 35% of the study population. Furthermore, the great variability of normal lung function in children and physiologic compensatory mechanisms may easily mask early nonhomogeneous and localized changes in airways parenchyma since spirometry provides a global estimate of lung integrity.

The concept that spirometry might not detect early changes in lung parenchyma has been suggested by the results of longitudinal studies in CF patients. In these patients, normal or stable spirometry findings have been observed in association with significant HRCT scan changes due to bronchiectasis, and this supported the suggestion that pulmonary function is not an accurate method for monitoring the progression of CF lung disease.2023 An additional study30 that was performed on lung resection specimens demonstrated that bronchial wall thickening is proportional to airway inflammation severity in adults with COPD and normal to slightly reduced FEV1.

The finding from the current study that HRCT scan subscores, including bronchial wall thickening severity, do not correlate with FEV1, the major functional marker of pulmonary disease, further reinforces the conclusion that, in many children with bronchiectasis, structural abnormalities may not be extrapolated by lung function. This is not surprising since spirometry provides a global measure of lung function integrity and gives no clues to the specific contribution of each lung or lobe, whereas, on the other hand, areas with localized moderate-to-severe structural abnormalities can be feasibly demonstrated on HRCT scans.

One limitation to our study is that patients had different etiologies for bronchiectasis, and because of the small sample size it was not possible to make a reliable statistical analysis within and between each subgroup. Therefore, our findings need to be confirmed in larger groups of patients, at least in those with immune defects or primary ciliary dyskinesia-associated bronchiectasis. Given that lung function may be preserved in the face of even severe radiographic bronchiectasis, a relevant question to be addressed is which tools can be used to predict or to check the progress of the disease, since there is little consensus on the ideal follow-up in children with non-CF bronchiectasis.6

Common clinical symptoms and signs of bronchiectasis at disease presentation or during the clinical course include productive cough and crackles at lung auscultation.31Sputum production or viscosity has not been included within the outcomes of drug efficacy in clinical trials of patients with CF or non-CF bronchiectasis.3234 Nonetheless, many children with bronchiectasis may present before an age when sputum is normally expectorated.35Finally, among the methods proposed for the computerized analysis of crackles,36the sonogram analysis in a time-expanded waveform display appears to be a highly sensitive tool for crackles counting.37Unfortunately, it requires an equipment that is not frequently available even in tertiary care centers. In a study of adults with non-CF bronchiectasis, systemic markers of inflammation, such as total WBC count, neutrophil count, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate have been reported to correlate with disease severity even though no difference between infected and noninfected patients, as depicted by sputum culture findings, could be documented.38 This, and the additional possible interference of upper respiratory tract infections, which frequently occur in children, may limit the usefulness of systemic markers of inflammation in the follow-up of pediatric patients.

A role for the exercise tolerance test in the assessment of bronchiectasis severity has been suggested,18 but no correlation with HRCT scan findings was found in non-CF children, suggesting that it must be considered a complementary test in the follow-up of patients.39Finally, the deposition of inhaled radioaerosol has been reported40to be diminished or nonhomogeneous in most patients with bronchiectasis, and abnormal ciliary beat frequency was also demonstrated in affected adults,41 suggesting that mucociliary clearance may be abnormal in patients with bronchiectasis. However, the mucociliary transport evaluation is technically demanding and is associated with the exposure to radioactive materials, and ciliary beat abnormalities do not appear to be related to relevant clinical parameters.41

There is growing awareness that chest HRCT scanning can be used as a biomarker for bronchiectasis since pathologic correlation studies42have demonstrated that HRCT scan images are similar to pathologic specimens. In addition to this, the graphic images can be transformed into quantitative data (ie, scores) that are used to track the clinical course.43

CF is a clinical condition in which the role of chest HRCT scanning has been broadly investigated.43FEV1 is the only surrogate marker currently accepted by the US Food and Drug Administration for CF lung disease.44 However, a recent longitudinal study45 has demonstrated that HRCT scan score, and not PFT results, significantly correlates with a true indicator of respiratory morbidity (ie, the number of pulmonary exacerbations). This result provides further support for the use of HRCT scanning as a valid end point in CF. Pending longitudinal studies on larger groups, this might be true also for non-CF bronchiectasis. At this regard, Edwards and coworkers,9 proposed that HRCT scanning be used to monitor children with non-CF bronchiectasis to provide a more precise score in long-term follow-up.

Monitoring patients with bronchiectasis is extremely important since the disease may either deteriorate or improve. Actually, improvement following appropriate therapeutic interventions was demonstrated by the studies of Field46reporting a fall in the annual hospitalization rate after medical or surgical treatment. Two anecdotal reports4748 of non-CF patients have shown near resolution of bronchiectasis after treatment with Nissen fundoplication plus gastrostomy in a child with chronic aspiration47or after a course of azithromycin therapy in an adolescent patient who had undergone a heart-lung transplant with chronic lung rejection.48Another report49 of 33 patients with bronchiectasis has shown that long-term treatment with azithromycin resulted in a significant reduction of infectious exacerbations, and in the improvement of several lung function parameters and clinical symptoms. Provided that these findings are confirmed by longitudinal and placebo-controlled evaluations in larger study populations, we speculate that HRCT scanning, alone or combined with PFTs, is likely to also be considered an outcome measure for therapeutic interventions in patients with non-CF bronchiectasis.

Another point which needs consideration is the possible relationship between asthma and bronchiectasis. A high prevalence of asthma has been reported in children with bronchiectasis.3,5051 This was the case also for our patients. It is tempting to speculate that inflammatory changes associated with reactive airways disease likely worsen mucociliary clearance after severe or recurrent pneumonia, thus contributing to progressive bronchial wall injury. In other words, the association between bronchiectasis and asthma can be explained by a common denominator (ie, pneumonia), since either pneumonia can precede the onset of asthma56 or asthma can be a risk factor for pneumonia.5760 The fact that in our study the majority of children were nonatopic does not diminish the relevance of the observation since bronchial inflammation is also well-documented in patients with nonallergic asthma, a condition that may have a more severe clinical course later in life.61 Interestingly, Chang and coworkers7 demonstrated bronchial inflammation with a predominant neutrophilic, and not eosinophilic, component in 58% of pulmonary lobes from indigenous Australian children with non-CF bronchiectasis who were undergoing bronchoscopy and BAL.

In the current study, we found that normal lung function may coexist with structural abnormalities on an HRCT scan. This lead us to reflect on the fact that in children with bronchiectasis normal lung function does not exclude damage to the bronchial structure and reinforces the hypothesis that pulmonary function is not an accurate method for assessing the severity of lung disease in children with CF or non-CF bronchiectasis. Provided that longitudinal studies aimed at exploring the correlation between HRCT scans findings and pulmonary function in larger groups will be performed, we speculate that HRCT scanning findings may be considered an appropriate imaging biomarker of non-CF bronchiectasis in children.

Abbreviations: CF = cystic fibrosis; HRCT = high-resolution CT; PFT = pulmonary function test

All authors declare that they have not been funded by or have any involvement with organizations with a financial interest in the subject matter or materials discussed in the article. All authors declare that they have no potential conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 1. Correlations Between Total HRCT Score and Subscores, and PFT Results
Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 2. FVC and FEV1 % Predicted in Cases With Bronchiectasis Total HRCT Scores of ≤ 20 and > 20, Respectively
Figure Jump LinkFigure 1. HRCT scan of a 14-year-old boy with bronchiectasis and a history of recurrent pneumonia who showed normal lung function (FVC, 116% predicted; FEV1, 106% predicted) but significant structural damage (bronchiectasis total HRCT scan score, 39).Grahic Jump Location
Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 3. Number of Patients With Asthma and Atopy, and Subjects < 2 Years of Age at the Onset of Cough in Groups With Positive or Negative Deep Throat or Sputum Culture Findings*
* 

Values are given as No. (%), unless otherwise indicated.

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Shaheen, SO, Barker, DJ, Shiell, AW, et al The relationship between pneumonia in early childhood an impaired lung function in late adult life.Am J Respir Crit Care Med1994;149,616-619. [PubMed]
 
Roizin, H, Reshef, A, Katz, I, et al Atopy, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and peak flow variability in children with mild occasional wheezing.Thorax1996;51,272-276. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Johnston, ID, Strachan, DP, Anderson, HR Effect of pneumonia and whooping cough in childhood on adult lung function.N Engl J Med1998;338,581-587. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Castro-Rodriguez, JA, Holberg, CJ, Wright, AL, et al Association of radiologically ascertained pneumonia before age 3 yr with asthma-like symptoms and pulmonary function during childhood: a prospective study.Am J Respir Crit Care Med1999;159,1891-1897. [PubMed]
 
Eigen, H, Laughlin, JJ, Homrighausen, J Recurrent pneumonia in children and its relationship to bronchial hyperreactivity.Pediatrics1982;70,698-704. [PubMed]
 
Lodha, R, Puranik, M, Natchu, UC, et al Recurrent pneumonia in children: clinical profile and underlying causes.Acta Paediatr2002;91,1170-1173. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Ciftci, E, Gunes, M, Koksal, Y, et al Underlying causes of recurrent pneumonia in Turkish children in a university hospital.J Trop Pediatr2003;49,212-215. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
MacIntyre, CR, McIntyre, PB, Cagney, M Community-based estimates of incidence and risk factors for childhood pneumonia in Western Sydney.Epidemiol Infect2003;131,1091-1096. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Novak, N, Bieber, T Allergic and nonallergic forms of atopic diseases.J Allergy Clin Immunol2003;112,252-262. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 

Figures

Figure Jump LinkFigure 1. HRCT scan of a 14-year-old boy with bronchiectasis and a history of recurrent pneumonia who showed normal lung function (FVC, 116% predicted; FEV1, 106% predicted) but significant structural damage (bronchiectasis total HRCT scan score, 39).Grahic Jump Location

Tables

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 1. Correlations Between Total HRCT Score and Subscores, and PFT Results
Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 2. FVC and FEV1 % Predicted in Cases With Bronchiectasis Total HRCT Scores of ≤ 20 and > 20, Respectively
Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 3. Number of Patients With Asthma and Atopy, and Subjects < 2 Years of Age at the Onset of Cough in Groups With Positive or Negative Deep Throat or Sputum Culture Findings*
* 

Values are given as No. (%), unless otherwise indicated.

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Roizin, H, Reshef, A, Katz, I, et al Atopy, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and peak flow variability in children with mild occasional wheezing.Thorax1996;51,272-276. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Johnston, ID, Strachan, DP, Anderson, HR Effect of pneumonia and whooping cough in childhood on adult lung function.N Engl J Med1998;338,581-587. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
 
Castro-Rodriguez, JA, Holberg, CJ, Wright, AL, et al Association of radiologically ascertained pneumonia before age 3 yr with asthma-like symptoms and pulmonary function during childhood: a prospective study.Am J Respir Crit Care Med1999;159,1891-1897. [PubMed]
 
Eigen, H, Laughlin, JJ, Homrighausen, J Recurrent pneumonia in children and its relationship to bronchial hyperreactivity.Pediatrics1982;70,698-704. [PubMed]
 
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