Study objectives: The bronchial arteries supply systemic blood to the airways, tracheobronchial lymph nodes, and nerves. Their structure has not been studied in patients with asthma.
Design: Case-control study of pathologic changes of bronchial arteries in asthma.
Participants and methods: Postmortem lungs were examined from three case groups: (1) fatal asthma (n = 12), death due to asthma; (2) nonfatal asthma (n = 12), asthmatic and death due to nonrespiratory causes; and (3) nonasthmatic control subjects (n = 12), no history of asthma and death due to nonrespiratory causes. In bronchial arteries with outer diameters of 0.1 to 1.0 mm, the areas of lumen, intima, and media were measured and compared between case groups.
Results: There were no significant differences in artery size (outer diameter) or in medial area between the three groups. In the two asthma groups, the intimal area was increased (p < 0.05), with a corresponding decrease in luminal area compared with the control group. There was a significant effect of gender, age, and smoking on intimal area. In the asthma cases, the area of bronchial artery intima was related to duration of asthma (p < 0.05), and this increase was associated with smooth muscle proliferation, reduplication, and calcification of the elastica, but not with inflammatory cell infiltration.
Conclusions: While the pathophysiologic significance of these changes is uncertain, the relation to duration of asthma, age, and smoking suggests a secondary response to chronic airway disease.