Background: Retinoids promote alveolar septation in the developing lung and stimulate alveolar repair in some animal models of emphysema.
Methods: One hundred forty-eight subjects with moderate-to-severe COPD and a primary component of emphysema, defined by diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (Dlco) [37.1 +/- 12.0% of predicted] and CT density mask (38.5 +/- 12.8% of voxels <- 910 Hounsfield units) [mean +/- SD] were enrolled into a randomized, double-blind, feasibility study at five university hospitals. Participants received all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) at either a low dose (LD) [1 mg/kg/d] or high dose (HD) [2 mg/kg/d], 13-cis retinoic acid (13-cRA) [1 mg/kg/d], or placebo for 6 months followed by a 3-month crossover period.
Results: No treatment was associated with an overall improvement in pulmonary function, CT density mask score, or health-related quality of life (QOL) at the end of 6 months. However, time-dependent changes in Dlco (initial decrease with delayed recovery) and St. George Respiratory Questionnaire (delayed improvement) were observed in the HD-ATRA cohort and correlated with plasma drug levels. In addition, 5 of 25 participants in the HD-ATRA group had delayed improvements in their CT scores that also related to ATRA levels. Retinoid-related side effects were common but generally mild.
Conclusions: No definitive clinical benefits related to the administration of retinoids were observed in this feasibility study. However, time- and dose-dependent changes in Dlco, CT density mask score, and health-related QOL were observed in subjects treated with ATRA, suggesting the possibility of exposure-related biological activity that warrants further investigation.