Ultrastructure of pulmonary mast cells in patients with fibrotic lung disorders
The topographic distribution, population density, and ultrastructural features of metachromatic cells (mast cells and basophilic leukocytes) were studied in lung biopsies from five control patients and 17 patients with fibrotic lung disorders. The great majority of metachromatic cells were mast cells. The average number of metachromatic cells per square millimeter of tissue section was much larger in patients with fibrotic lung disorders (45.8 +/- 6.5) than in control patients (2.6 +/- 1.6). In control patients, mast cells were most frequently seen in subpleural and perivascular connective tissue. In contrast, the vast majority of mast cells in patients with fibrotic lung disorders was present in thickened, fibrous alveolar septa; mast cells also were found within the alveolar epithelial layer and alveolar lumina. The quantitative distribution of different types of mast cell granules differed in the two groups of patients: granules composed of scrolls were more frequent in control patients, and granules of the combined type (containing mixtures of different components within the same granule) were more frequent in patients with fibrotic lung disorders. Mast cells in the latter patients appeared to migrate through defects in the basement membrane into the epithelial layer and alveolar lumina; mast cells in these areas often showed reduced numbers of granules and disorganized granule content. These changes suggest that pulmonary parenchymal mast cells in fibrotic lung disorders undergo a chronic process of partial degranulation which differs from that found in anaphylaxis; this chronic release of mast cell products may contribute to the continuing alveolar injury and the ventilation-perfusion inequalities observed in the fibrotic lung disorders.