Mucus Plugs in Asthma at CT Associated with Regional Ventilation Defects at 3He MRI

David G. Mummy, Eleanor M. Dunican, Katherine J. Carey, Michael D. Evans, Brett M. Elicker, John D. Newell, David S. Gierada, Scott K. Nagle, Mark L. Schiebler, Ronald L. Sorkness, Nizar N. Jarjour, Loren C. Denlinger, John V. Fahy, Sean B. Fain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Airway mucus plugs in asthma are associated with exacerbation frequency, increased eosinophilia, and reduced lung function. The relationship between mucus plugs and spatially overlapping ventilation abnormalities observed at hyperpolarized gas MRI has not been assessed quantitatively. Purpose: To assess regional associations between CT mucus plugs scored by individual bronchopulmonary segment and corresponding measurements of segmental ventilation defect percentage (VDP) at hyperpolarized helium 3 (3 He) MRI. Materials and Methods: In this secondary analysis of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant prospective observational cohort, participants in the Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) III (NCT01760915) between December 2012 and August 2015 underwent hyperpolarized 3He MRI to determine segmental VDP. Segmental mucus plugs at CT were scored by two readers, with segments scored as plugged only if both readers agreed independently. A linear mixed-effects model controlling for interpatient variability was then used to assess differences in VDP in plugged versus plug-free segments. Results: Forty-four participants with asthma were assessed (mean age ± standard deviation, 47 years ± 15; 29 women): 19 with mild-to-moderate asthma and 25 with severe asthma. Mucus plugs were observed in 49 total bronchopulmonary segments across eight of 44 patients. Segments containing mucus plugs had a median segmental VDP of 25.9% (25th-75th percentile, 7.3%-38.3%) versus 1.4% (25th-75th percentile, 0.1%-5.2%; P < .001) in plug-free segments. Similarly, the model estimated a segmental VDP of 18.9% (95% CI: 15.7, 22.2) for mucus-plugged segments versus 5.1% (95% CI: 3.3, 7.0) for plug-free segments (P < .001). Participants with one or more mucus plugs had a median whole-lung VDP of 11.1% (25th-75th percentile, 7.1%-18.9%) versus 3.1% (25th-75th percentile, 1.1%-4.4%) in those without plugs (P < .001). Conclusion: Airway mucus plugging at CT was associated with reduced ventilation in the same bronchopulmonary segment at hyperpolarized helium 3 MRI, suggesting that mucus plugging may be an important cause of ventilation defects in asthma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-190
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2022


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