Lymphocyte-macrophage alveolitis in nonsmoking individuals occupationally exposed to asbestos
A disordered immunologic activity has been observed in humans and animal models of asbestosis and silicosis. To characterize the lung immunologic response following long-term occupational exposure to asbestos, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) was performed on 28 nonsmoking individuals. Increased BAL lymphocytes were observed in one third. Lung lymphocytes were predominantly of the CD4+ helper-inducer subtype with increased CD4+/CD8+ ratio and increased surface expression of DR antigen consistent with the activation phenotype. Histologic evaluation of lung tissue from two individuals with lymphocytic-macrophage alveolitis and asbestos exposure revealed an infiltration of alveolar walls with chronic inflammatory mononuclear cells (lymphocytes). Interferon gamma was spontaneously released by BAL cells from 19 (76 percent) of 25 of the individuals with asbestos exposure and only one of ten normal controls. The release of interferon gamma by BAL cells could be further stimulated with concanavalin A and suppressed by cyclosporine. Although asbestosis is characterized by a predominant alveolar macrophage alveolitis, there is a subgroup with lymphocytic alveolitis and activated lymphocytes participating in the inflammatory response, especially in those without respiratory impairment early in the course of the disease process.