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Could prominent airway-centered fibroblast foci in lung biopsies predict underlying chronic microaspiration in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patients?

Human Pathology 2016 July
Chronic occult aspiration of small droplets (microaspiration) due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and/or hiatal hernia is postulated to be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). Usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) is the histopathologic correlate of IPF. We hypothesized that chronic microaspiration may manifest as prominent airway-centered fibroblastic foci (FFs) in IPF. UIP cases diagnosed by wedge biopsies over a 6-year period (2006-2011) were identified and scored (1-3) for the prominence of airway-centered FFs by 2 authors blinded for clinical history. Relevant clinical information was obtained. Thirty-seven patients (22 men) were diagnosed with IPF by multidisciplinary approach. Thirteen cases (35.1%) demonstrated high airway-centered FF score (score 3). Twenty (54.1%) patients carried a clinical diagnosis of GERD, and 3 patients (8.1%) had hiatal hernia. High airway-centered FF score was significantly associated with hiatal hernia diagnosis (P=.037) but not with a diagnosis of GERD or the use of proton pump inhibitors/histamine-2 receptor antagonists. High airway-centered FF score was associated with airway-centered acute inflammation (P=.028) and peribronchiolar granulomas (P=.042). In summary, IPF cases with hiatal hernia were more likely to have a prominent airway-centered FF. Given the strong association between hiatal hernia and GERD and their risk for developing chronic microaspiration, the prominent airway-centered FF in UIP might predict the presence of chronic microaspiration, acknowledging that GERD and proton pump inhibitor/histamine-2 receptor antagonist use failed to demonstrate a significant association. Larger studies are warranted for further investigation.

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