Noninvasive assessment of airway alterations in smokers - The small airways revisited

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it has been shown that structural changes in small airways of smokers with average smoking histories greater than 35 pack-years could be reflected in the single-breath washout test. The more sophisticated multiple breath washout test (MBW) has the potential to anatomically locate the affected small airways in acinar and conductive lung zones through increased phase III slope indices S-acin and S-cond, respectively. Pulmonary function, S-acin, and S-cond were obtained in 63 normal never-smokers and in 169 smokers classified according to smoking history (<10 pack-years; 10-20 pack-years; 20-30 pack-years; > 30 pack-years). Compared with never-smokers, significant changes in S-acin (p = 0.02), S-cond (p <0.001), and diffusing capacity (D-LCO; p <0.001) were detected from greater than 10 pack-years onwards. Spirometric abnormality was significant only from greater than 20 pack-years onwards. In smokers with greater than 30 pack-years and D-LCO less than 60% predicted, the presence of emphysema resulted in disproportionally larger S-acin than S-cond increases. We conclude that S-cond and S-acin can noninvasively detect airway changes from as early as 10 pack-years onwards, locating the earliest manifestations of smoking-induced small airways alterations around the acinar entrance. In these early stages, the associated D-LCO decrease may be a reflection of ventilation heterogeneity rather than true parenchymal destruction. In more advanced stages of smoking-induced lung disease, differential patterns of S-acin and S-cond are characteristic of the presence of parenchymal destruction in addition to peripheral airways alterations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-419
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2004


  • lung periphery
  • multiple-breath washout
  • phase III slope

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