Rationale: The main hindrance to long-term success of lung transplantation is bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS), generally thought to be a manifestation of chronic allograft rejection. BOS is associated histologically with epithelial injury, bronchocentric mononuclear inflammation, and fibrosis of small airways known as bronchiolitis obliterans (BO). Few studies have directly compared clinical, radiographic, and histologic findings of BOS and BO, particularly in the era of improved immunosuppression and infection prophylaxis. Patients undergoing pulmonary retransplantation for BOS provide a unique opportunity to investigate these relationships.
Methods: All patients who underwent pulmonary retransplantation for BOS from 1992 to 2004 at Duke University Medical Center were reviewed. Pathology findings in explanted lung allografts were compared with clinical, radiographic, and transbronchial biopsy data.
Results: Over the 12-year study period, 12 patients underwent pulmonary retransplantation for BOS. The median time to BOS was 517 days (intraquartile range, 396 to 819.8 days). BOS scores prior to retransplantation were 2 in 2 patients and 3 in 10 patients. We developed a semiquantitative scoring system for epithelial, inflammatory, and fibrotic changes in affected airways to permit better comparison between BO and BOS. Somewhat surprisingly, only 50% (6 of 12 patients) had severe fibrotic changes, although all had some degree of epithelial injury, fibrosis, or inflammation centered around the bronchi and bronchioles. Furthermore, pathology findings other than BO were present in most explanted allografts and included cholesterol clefts (n = 4), focal invasive aspergillosis (n = 1), interstitial fibrosis (n = 2), and chronic vascular rejection (n = 1).
Conclusions: In this series of patients with advanced BOS undergoing retransplantation, at least some degree of BO was present in all explanted allografts. However, the degree of epithelial changes, fibrosis, and inflammation present among affected bronchi varied considerably. Furthermore, a wide range of pathologic processes of potential clinical significance were evident in half of the patients. We conclude that significant histologic heterogeneity exists among patients undergoing retransplantation for BOS, potentially contributing to the variability of patient responses to treatment.