Anchoring fibrils. A new connective tissue structure in fibrotic lung disease.
Electron microscopic studies of lung were made and compared in 17 patients with lung disease (10 with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, 3 with collagen--vascular diseases, 3 with sarcoidosis, and 1 with chronic eosinophilic pneumonia) and in 5 control patients. In control patients, the alveolar epithelial cells were normal, and no hemidesmosomes were present between the plasma membranes and the basal laminae. In comparison, cuboidal alveolar epithelial cells were present in 15 of the patients with fibrotic lung disease; in 9 of these the alveolar epithelial cells were multilayered. In 7 of the latter 9 patients (5 with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and 2 with collagen-vascular diseases), the basal laminae of the alveolar epithelial cells were attached to the plasma membranes by hemidesmosomes and to the underlying interstitial connective tissue by "anchoring fibrils." These fibrils measured from 4000 to 6000 A in length and from 200 to 600 A in width. One or both ends of the anchoring fibrils inserted into thebasal lamina, often forming arcs through which collagen fibrils and connective tissue microfibrils penetrated. Anchoring fibrils showed a complex pattern of transverse banding, which differed from that of collagen and appeared to be symmetric about the center of the fibril. These anchoring fibrils, which resemble those in normal skin and other tissues, were not found in lungs of control patients. In addition, there was a significant correlation between the severity of the pulmonary fibrosis and the presence of anchoring fibrils. These observations suggest that in severe fibrotic lung disease, anchoring fibrils reinforce the attachment of the basal lamina of multilayered alveolar epithelial cells to interstitial connective tissue.