BACKGROUND:Computed tomographic (CT) airway lumen narrowing is associated with lower lung function. Although volumetric CT measures of airways (wall volume [WV] and lumen volume [LV]) compared to cross sectional measures can more accurately reflect bronchial morphology, data of their use in never smokers is scarce. We hypothesize that native tracheobronchial tree morphology as assessed by volumetric CT metrics play a significant role in determining lung function in normal subjects. We aimed to assess the relationships between airway size, the projected branching generation number (BGN) to reach airways of <2mm lumen diameter -the site for airflow obstruction in smokers- and measures of lung function including forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% of vital capacity (FEF 25-75).METHODS:We assessed WV and LV of segmental and subsegmental airways from six bronchial paths as well as lung volume on CT scans from 106 never smokers. We calculated the lumen area ratio of the subsegmental to segmental airways and estimated the projected BGN to reach a <2mm-lumen-diameter airway assuming a dichotomized tracheobronchial tree model. Regression analysis was used to assess the relationships between airway size, BGN, FEF 25-75, and FEV1.RESULTS:We found that in models adjusted for demographics, LV and WV of segmental and subsegmental airways were directly related to FEV1 (P <0.05 for all the models). In adjusted models for age, sex, race, LV and lung volume or height, the projected BGN was directly associated with FEF 25-75 and FEV1 (P=0.001) where subjects with lower FEV1 had fewer calculated branch generations between the subsegmental bronchus and small airways. There was no association between airway lumen area ratio and lung volume.CONCLUSION:We conclude that in never smokers, those with smaller central airways had lower airflow and those with lower airflow had less parallel airway pathways independent of lung size. These findings suggest that variability in the structure of the tracheobronchial tree may influence the risk of developing clinically relevant smoking related airway obstruction.