From the archives of the AFIP: pulmonary Langerhans cell histiocytosis

Radiographics. May-Jun 2004;24(3):821-41. doi: 10.1148/rg.243045005.


Pulmonary Langerhans cell histiocytosis (PLCH) is an isolated form of Langerhans cell histiocytosis that primarily affects cigarette smokers. PLCH is characterized by peribronchiolar proliferation of Langerhans cell infiltrates that form stellate nodules. The nodular lesions frequently cavitate and form thick- and thin-walled cysts, which are thought to represent enlarged airway lumina. PLCH lesions display temporal microscopic heterogeneity, with progression from dense cellular nodules to apparently cavitary nodules to increasing degrees of fibrosis that may extend along alveolar walls. In advanced cases, fibrotic scars are surrounded by enlarged, distorted air spaces. Affected patients are typically young adults who often present with cough and dyspnea. The characteristic radiographic features of PLCH are bilateral nodular and reticulonodular areas of opacity that predominantly involve the upper and middle lung zones with relative sparing of the lung bases. High-resolution computed tomography (CT) shows nodules and cysts in the same distribution and allows a confident prospective diagnosis of PLCH in the appropriate clinical setting. In typical cases, a predominantly nodular pattern is seen on CT scans in early phases of the disease, whereas a cystic pattern predominates in later phases. The radiologic abnormalities may regress, resolve completely, become stable, or progress to advanced cystic changes. Treatment consists of smoking cessation, but corticosteroid therapy may be useful in selected patients. Chemotherapeutic agents and lung transplantation may be offered to patients with advanced disease. The prognosis of PLCH is variable with frequent regression, stabilization, or recurrence of disease that does not correlate with cessation or continuation of smoking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cysts / etiology
  • Cysts / pathology
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Fibrosis
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / diagnostic imaging*
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / epidemiology
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / etiology
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / pathology
  • Histiocytosis, Langerhans-Cell / therapy
  • Humans
  • Langerhans Cells / pathology
  • Lung Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • Lung Diseases / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed