BackgroundTo explore patterns of brain structural alteration in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients with different levels of lung function impairment and the associations of those patterns with cognitive functional deficits using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analyses based on high-resolution structural MRI and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).MethodsA total of 115 right-handed participants (26 severe, 29 moderate, and 29 mild COPD patients and a comparison group of 31 individuals without COPD) completed tests of cognitive (Montreal Cognitive Assessment [MoCA]) and pulmonary function (forced expiratory volume in 1 s [FEV1]) and underwent MRI scanning. VBM and TBSS analyses were used to identify changes in grey matter density (GMD) and white matter (WM) integrity in COPD patients. In addition, correlation analyses between these imaging parameter changes and cognitive and pulmonary functional impairments were performed.ResultsThere was no significant difference in brain structure between the comparison groups and the mild COPD patients. Patients with moderate COPD had atrophy of the left middle frontal gyrus and right opercular part/triangular part of the inferior frontal gyrus, and WM changes were present mainly in the superior and posterior corona radiata, corpus callosum and cingulum. Patients with severe COPD exhibited the most extensive changes in GMD and WM. Some grey matter (GM) and WM changes were correlated with MoCA scores and FEV1.ConclusionsThese findings suggest that patients with COPD exhibit progressive structural impairments in both the GM and the WM, along with impaired levels of lung function, highlighting the importance of early clinical interventions.