Tracheobronchial amyloidosis. The Boston University experience from 1984 to 1999

Medicine (Baltimore). 2000 Mar;79(2):69-79. doi: 10.1097/00005792-200003000-00001.


Tracheobronchial amyloidosis (TBA), an idiopathic disorder characterized by deposition of fibrillar proteins in the tracheobronchial tree, occurred in 10 patients referred to the Amyloid Program at Boston University over the past 15 years. Fewer than 100 cases of TBA have been described; only 1 series encompassed more than 3 patients. We analyzed our experience with biopsy-proven TBA to define better its natural history. Follow-up averaged approximately 8 years and was obtained in all cases, making this outcome reporting the largest and most complete to date. Three of these patients were prospectively studied for up to 24 months to examine the utility of bronchoscopy, computerized tomography (CT) imaging, and pulmonary function tests (PFTs) in monitoring disease progression. No patient with TBA developed signs or symptoms of systemic amyloidosis during the period reviewed. Conversely, tracheobronchial disease was not diagnosed in 685 patients with primary systemic (AL) amyloidosis during the 15-year study period at Boston University. Bronchoscopy proved most useful in establishing the diagnosis by biopsy. Narrowing of major airways limited its inspection of the tracheobronchial tree, however. In contrast, CT imaging provided quantitative assessment of airway narrowing and mural thickening--2 major consequences of amyloid infiltration. These CT features, in the presence of mural calcifications sparing the posterior tracheal membrane, have been reported in few disorders other than TBA. The ability of CT to map airway involvement and identify extraluminal manifestations of TBA made it the study of choice for establishing disease extent. Three patterns of disease were evident by CT imaging and bronchoscopic examination: proximal, mid, and distal airways involvement. Those with severe proximal disease had significantly decreased air flows, air trapping, and fixed upper airway obstruction on PFTs. Patients with distal disease had normal airflows. PFTs could not clearly distinguish proximal from severe mid airways disease. Thirty percent of patients died within 7-12 years after diagnosis, all having proximal or severe mid airways disease. Repeated rigid bronchoscopic debridement and laser treatments did not prevent progressive airways narrowing in patients dying from TBA. Most patients with mid airways involvement, and all distal airway cases, had either stagnant disease or slowly increasing amyloid deposits when followed for up to 14 years. In a small subset of patients followed prospectively, serial PFTs were most sensitive to disease progression. CT-derived measures of airway lumen diameter and wall thickness did not change significantly despite marked improvements in airflow after rigid bronchoscopy. Our experience suggests that serial PFTs and CT imaging together offer the best assessment of airway involvement and disease progression in patients with TBA. In the future, radiation therapy may provide more definitive treatment of TBA than debulking procedure have to date.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology
  • Amyloidosis / diagnosis
  • Amyloidosis / pathology*
  • Amyloidosis / therapy
  • Biopsy
  • Bronchial Diseases / diagnosis
  • Bronchial Diseases / pathology*
  • Bronchial Diseases / therapy
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Tracheal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Tracheal Diseases / pathology*
  • Tracheal Diseases / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome