Bronchoalveolar lavage in systemic sclerosis with lung involvement: role and correlations with functional, radiological and scintigraphic parameters

Stefania Volpinari, Renato La Corte, Stefano Bighi, Franco Ravenna, Napoleone Prandini, Andrea Lo Monaco, Francesco Trotta
Rheumatology International 2011, 31 (9): 1183-8
To evaluate the role and the prognostic value of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) in scleroderma patients with interstitial lung disease. We reviewed the records of 79 patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) who had dyspnea and pulmonary involvement and underwent BAL study. Sixty-two patients were prospectively followed up for 12-36 months and re-evaluated by pulmonary function tests (PFTs). Seventy-nine SSc patients were enrolled (71 F and 8 M), 55 with limited and 24 with a diffuse form; mean age 55 ± 13 years; mean disease duration 55.2 ± 59 months. All patients were ANA positive, of these 30 were anti-topoisomerase-1 positive (anti-Topo1) and 22 were anti-centromere positive (ACA). Thirty-one patients had alveolitis (39.2%) that was neutrophilic in 12 patients, eosinophilic in 3 and mixed (neutrophilic and eosinophilic) in 16 patients. Compared to patients without alveolitis, those with alveolitis had a significant reduction of carbon monoxide diffusing capacity (DLCO), forced vital capacity (FVC) and more elevated lung high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scores. Furthermore, alveolar clearance was significantly accelerated. No differences were found between patients with and without alveolitis regarding disease subsets (diffuse vs limited-SSc); a significant predominance of anti-Topo1 antibodies was found in the alveolitis group and of ACA antibodies in the non-alveolitis cohort. During the follow-up, (range: 12-36 months) 62 patients, 26 with and 36 without alveolitis were re-evaluated with PFTs. In the alveolitis group, 12 patients (46.1%) showed stable lung function parameters and 14 had worsened (53.8%). In this group, 20 patients (77%) received cyclophosphamide (CYC): 11 (55%) worsened (5 of them died of cardio-pulmonary complications) and 9 (45%) remained stable. Six patients could not be treated; of these 3 remained stable and 3 worsened. Among 36 patients with normal BAL, 11 (30.5%) showed stable lung function parameters, 13 improved (36.1%) and 12 worsened (33.3%); in this last group, 2 patients died of extra-pulmonary complications. Six patients, with progression of lung fibrosis, were treated with CYC: 3 of them improved and 3 remained stable. Our study revealed a trend toward a more severe course in the SSc patients with BAL alveolitis; probably the non-significant result is related to the low number of the examined subjects and to the selection criteria. However, BAL remains the only tool to exclude lung infections and, in our experience, a useful instrument to evaluate interstitial lung disease in SSc patients.

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