Cigarette smoking and airway wall thickness on CT scan in a multi-ethnic cohort: The MESA Lung Study

Kathleen M. Donohue, Eric A. Hoffman, Heather Baumhauer, Junfeng Guo, Matthew Budoff, John H.M. Austin, Ravi Kalhan, Steven Kawut, Russell Tracy, R. Graham Barr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Autopsy studies show that smoking contributes to airway wall hyperplasia and narrowing of the airway lumen. Studies of smoking and airway measures on computed tomography (CT) scan are limited to case-control studies of measures that combine airway lumen and wall thickness. Objectives: We hypothesized that cumulative cigarette smoking would be associated with increased airway wall thickness in a large, population-based cohort. Methods: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis enrolled participants age 45-84 years from the general population. Smoking history was assessed via standardized questionnaire items; current smoking was confirmed in half the cohort with cotinine. Airway lumen and wall thickness were measured in two dimensions in posterior basal segmental bronchi on cardiac-gated CT scans. Analyses were adjusted for age, gender, genetic ancestry, education, height, weight, asthma history, particulate matter, scanner type, and scanner current. Results: Half of the 7898 participants had smoked and 14% were current smokers. Pack-years of smoking were associated with thicker airway walls (mean increase 0.002 mm per ten pack-years [95% CI: 0.00002, 0.004] p = 0.03). Current smoking was associated with narrower airway lumens (mean decrease -0.11 mm [95% CI: -0.2, -0.02] p = 0.02). There was no evidence that either association was modified by genetic ancestry, and findings persisted among participants without clinical disease. Conclusions: Long-term cigarette smoking was associated with subclinical increases in wall thickness of sub-segmental airways whereas current smoking was associated with narrower airway lumen diameters. Smoking may contribute to airway wall thickening prior to the development of overt chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1655-1664
Number of pages10
JournalRespiratory Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Airway remodeling
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lumen
  • Pi10
  • Smoking
  • Wall thickness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

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