A method for functional imaging of the large airways (bronchoscintigraphy) has been developed. It is based on the administration of aerosolised albumin labelled with technetium-99m using a special inhalation technique to produce central airway deposition. The method was evaluated as a measure of mucociliary clearance by recording the movement of radioactivity in the airways of 11 healthy, non-smoking subjects on two separate days. A series of bronchoscintigrams was acquired at five minute intervals for two hours after termination of the inhalation. After the first bronchoscintigram 1.25 mg terbutaline or placebo was administered from a metered dose inhaler (five puffs) according to a randomised, double blind, crossover design. The scintigrams were evaluated blind. After terbutaline the segmental bronchi were no longer visible after a median time of 10 minutes, the lobar bronchi after 20 minutes and the main bronchi after 30 minutes. In six cases the trachea was cleared after two hours. After placebo the segmental bronchi disappeared after a median of 15 minutes, but at two hours half the lobar bronchi remained visible. In only two cases was it no longer possible to see the main bronchi or the trachea. It is concluded that bronchoscintigraphy can be used to examine regional mucociliary clearance in healthy subjects and that terbutaline significantly increases the clearance of the deposited radioactive aerosol.
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