Lipid-laden alveolar macrophages (LLAM): a useful marker of silent aspiration in children

Pediatr Pulmonol. 1999 Aug;28(2):83-8. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-0496(199908)28:2<83::aid-ppul2>;2-a.


At present there is no test available which identifies children suffering from silent aspiration due to gastroesophageal reflux (GER). The purpose of this study was to determine whether lipid-laden alveolar macrophage (LLAM) scoring is a useful method to arrive at the diagnosis. We evaluated bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) from 68 children aged 6 months to 14 years (median 3.75 years) for the presence of lipid-laden alveolar macrophages. We compared children with chronic chest disease (CCD) and GER to healthy surgical controls without known lung disease, and to children with recurrent pneumonia without GER. By grading the amount of intracellular Sudan Red-positive material, we determined a semiquantitative lipid-laden macrophage (LLAM) score for each patient. Patients with chronic chest disease suspected to be caused by silent aspiration secondary to GER had a significantly higher LLAM score (median, 117; range, 10-956) than children with recurrent pneumonia due to other reasons (median, 29; range, 5-127; P < 0.01) and healthy controls (median, 37; range, 5-188; P < 0.01). We believe that simply observing lipid-laden macrophages is nonspecific, but quantitation of these cells is a useful method for diagnosing silent aspiration in children, especially when the score exceeds 200.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / cytology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cytodiagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lipids / analysis*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / chemistry*
  • Phagocytosis
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / etiology
  • Pneumonia, Aspiration / pathology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / diagnosis


  • Biomarkers
  • Lipids