Quantitative computed tomography imaging of airway remodeling in severe asthma
Asthma is a heterogeneous condition and approximately 5–10% of asthmatic subjects have severe disease associated with structure changes of the airways (airway remodeling) that may develop over time or shortly after onset of disease. Quantitative computed tomography (QCT) imaging of the tracheobronchial tree and lung parenchyma has improved during the last 10 years, and has enabled investigators to study the large airway architecture in detail and assess indirectly the small airway structure. In severe asthmatics, morphologic changes in large airways, quantitatively assessed using 2D-3D airway registration and recent algorithms, are characterized by airway wall thickening, luminal narrowing and bronchial stenoses. Extent of expiratory gas trapping, quantitatively assessed using lung densitometry, may be used to assess indirectly small airway remodeling. Investigators have used these quantitative imaging techniques in order to attempt severity grading of asthma, and to identify clusters of asthmatic patients that differ in morphologic and functional characteristics. Although standardization of image analysis procedures needs to be improved, the identification of remodeling pattern in various phenotypes of severe asthma and the ability to relate airway structures to important clinical outcomes should help target treatment more effectively.