Small airway wall thickening assessed by computerized tomography is associated with low lung function in Chinese carbon black packers. Academic Article uri icon


  • Nano-scale carbon black as virtually pure elemental carbon can deposit deep in the lungs and cause pulmonary injury. Airway remodeling assessed using computer tomography (CT) correlates well with spirometry in patients with obstructive lung diseases. Structural airway changes caused by carbon black exposure remains unknown. Wall and lumen areas of 6th and 9th generations of airways in four lobes were quantified using end-inhalation CT scans in 58 current carbon black packers (CBP) and 95 non-CBPs. Carbon content in airway macrophage (CCAM) in sputum was quantified to assess the dose-response. Environmental monitoring and CCAM showed a much higher level of elemental carbon exposure in CBPs, which was associated with higher wall area and lower lumen area with no change in total airway area for either airway generation. This suggested small airway wall thickening is a major feature of airway remodeling in CBPs. Compared to wall or lumen areas, wall area percent (WA%) was not affected by subject characteristics or lobar location and had greater measurement reproducibility. The effect of carbon black exposure status on WA% did not differ by lobes. CCAM was associated with WA% in a dose-dependent manner. CBPs had lower FEV1 than non-CBPs and mediation analysis identified that a large portion (41-72%) of the FEV1 reduction associated with carbon black exposure could be explained by WA%. Small airway wall thickening as a major imaging change detected by CT may underlie the pathology of lung function impairment caused by carbon black exposure.© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:

publication date

  • August 2020