Aims: Pulmonary Langerhans cell histiocytosis (PLCH) is characterized by the presence of lesions containing numerous activated Langerhans cells (LCs). An uncontrolled immune response sustained by activated LCs seems to be involved in the pathogenesis of the disease. The aim of this study was to establish whether disruption of LC apoptosis related to the expression of the Bcl-2 family proteins is implicated in the maintenance of PLCH lesions.
Methods: Six patients with PLCH were evaluated by morphological and immunohistochemical techniques to explore the incidence of apoptosis in pathological LCs and to characterize the expression of Bcl-2-related proteins by these cells.
Results: Very few LCs present in PLCH lesions exhibited nuclear apoptotic changes or expressed cleaved caspase-3, whereas they all strongly expressed the anti-apoptotic molecule Bcl-x(L). Interestingly, pulmonary LCs present in intervening lung tissue not involved by the pathological process and known to be immature dendritic cells did not express Bcl-2 family proteins.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that activated LCs present within PLCH lesions are poorly susceptible to apoptosis and, thus, are able to sustain the pathological process by causing continuous local stimulation of T cells. Functional studies are needed, however, to demonstrate that they are actually resistant to programmed cell death.