Healthy lung vessel morphology derived from thoracic computed tomography

Michael Pienn, Caroline Burgard, Christian Payer, Alexander Avian, Martin Urschler, Rudolf Stollberger, Andrea Olschewski, Horst Olschewski*, Thorsten Johnson, Felix Meinel, Zoltán Bálint

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Knowledge of the lung vessel morphology in healthy subjects is necessary to improve our understanding about the functional network of the lung and to recognize pathologic deviations beyond the normal inter-subject variation. Established values of normal lung morphology have been derived from necropsy material of only very few subjects. In order to determine morphologic readouts from a large number of healthy subjects, computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA) datasets, negative for pulmonary embolism, and other thoracic pathologies, were analyzed using a fully-automatic, in-house developed artery/vein separation algorithm. The number, volume, and tortuosity of the vessels in a diameter range between 2 and 10 mm were determined. Visual inspection of all datasets was used to exclude subjects with poor image quality or inadequate artery/vein separation from the analysis. Validation of the algorithm was performed manually by a radiologist on randomly selected subjects. In 123 subjects (men/women: 55/68), aged 59 ± 17 years, the median overlap between visual inspection and fully-automatic segmentation was 94.6% (69.2-99.9%). The median number of vessel segments in the ranges of 8-10, 6-8, 4-6, and 2-4 mm diameter was 9, 34, 134, and 797, respectively. Number of vessel segments divided by the subject's lung volume was 206 vessels/L with arteries and veins contributing almost equally. In women this vessel density was about 15% higher than in men. Median arterial and venous volumes were 1.52 and 1.54% of the lung volume, respectively. Tortuosity was best described with the sum-of-angles metric and was 142.1 rad/m (138.3-144.5 rad/m). In conclusion, our fully-automatic artery/vein separation algorithm provided reliable measures of pulmonary arteries and veins with respect to age and gender. There was a large variation between subjects in all readouts. No relevant dependence on age, gender, or vessel type was observed. These data may provide reference values for morphometric analysis of lung vessels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number346
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2018


  • Artery/vein separation
  • Automated image analysis
  • Computed tomography
  • Healthy reference values
  • Morphology
  • Pulmonary circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

Fields of Expertise

  • Information, Communication & Computing


  • BioTechMed-Graz

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