In CT scans of smokers with COPD, the subsegmental airway wall area percent (WA%) is greater and more strongly correlated with FEV1 % predicted than WA% obtained in the segmental airways. Because emphysema is linked to loss of airway tethering and may limit airway expansion, increases in WA% may be related to emphysema and not solely to remodeling. We aimed to first determine whether the stronger association of subsegmental vs segmental WA% with FEV1 % predicted is mitigated by emphysema and, second, to assess the relationships among emphysema, WA%, and total bronchial area (TBA).
We analyzed CT scan segmental and subsegmental WA% (WA% = 100 × wall area/TBA) of six bronchial paths and corresponding lobar emphysema, lung function, and clinical data in 983 smokers with COPD.
Compared with segmental WA%, the subsegmental WA% had a greater effect on FEV1% predicted (−0.8% to −1.7% vs −1.9% to −2.6% per 1-unit increase in WA%, respectively; P < .05 for most bronchial paths). After adjusting for emphysema, the association between subsegmental WA% and FEV1 % predicted was weakened in two bronchial paths. Increases in WA% between bronchial segments correlated directly with emphysema in all bronchial paths (P < .05). In multivariate regression models, emphysema was directly related to subsegmental WA% in most bronchial paths and inversely related to subsegmental TBA in all bronchial paths.
The greater effect of subsegmental WA% on airflow obstruction is mitigated by emphysema. Part of the emphysema effect might be due to loss of airway tethering, leading to a reduction in TBA and an increase in WA%.
ClinicalTrials.gov; No.: NCT00608764; URL: www.clinicaltrials.gov