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Damaged lung gas exchange function of discharged COVID-19 patients detected by hyperpolarized 129Xe MRI

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Science Advances  01 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 1, eabc8180
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc8180


The recovery process of COVID-19 patients is unclear. Some recovered patients complain of continued shortness of breath. Vasculopathy has been reported in COVID-19, stressing the importance of probing pulmonary microstructure and function at the alveolar-capillary interface. While computed tomography (CT) detects structural abnormalities, little is known about the impact of disease on lung function. 129Xe magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a technique uniquely capable of assessing ventilation, microstructure, and gas exchange. Using 129Xe MRI, we found that COVID-19 patients show a higher rate of ventilation defects (5.9% versus 3.7%), unchanged microstructure, and longer gas-blood exchange time (43.5 ms versus 32.5 ms) compared with healthy individuals. These findings suggest that regional ventilation and alveolar airspace dimensions are relatively normal around the time of discharge, while gas-blood exchange function is diminished. This study establishes the feasibility of localized lung function measurements in COVID-19 patients and their potential usefulness as a supplement to structural imaging.

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