The pathology of pulmonary sarcoidosis: update

Semin Diagn Pathol. 2007 Aug;24(3):150-61. doi: 10.1053/j.semdp.2007.06.002.


Sarcoidosis is a multi-system disease of unknown etiology, usually affecting the respiratory tract and other organs, and is characterized by the formation of nonnecrotizing epithelioid granulomas. The diagnosis depends on a combination of a typical clinicoradiological presentation, the finding of nonnecrotizing epithelioid granulomas in a tissue biopsy, and exclusion of other possible diseases, especially those of infectious etiology. The granulomas contain epithelioid cells, giant cells, CD4+ T cells in their center, and CD8 + T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes at their periphery. The granulomas are present in a lymphatic pattern around bronchovascular structures and, because of this, may show angioinvasion. The bronchial involvement produces a high diagnostic yield for transbronchial and endobronchial biopsies in this disease. Finally, small amounts of fibrinoid necrosis may occur within granulomas of sarcoidosis and do not exclude the diagnosis. Larger amounts suggest either infection or the rare disease necrotizing sarcoid granulomatosis (NSG). A number of cytoplasmic structures/inclusions can be identified within the granulomas of sarcoidosis, including asteroid bodies, Schaumann's bodies, calcium oxalate crystals, and Hamazaki-Wesenberg bodies; the last two of these can cause difficulties in differential diagnosis. Extra-pulmonary sarcoid can be an important factor in prognosis. Involved sites include (in decreasing frequency): skin, endocrine organs, extra-thoracic lymph nodes, neurologic sites, eyes, liver, spleen, bone marrow, cardiac, ear/nose/throat, parotid/ salivary, muscles, bones/joint, and kidney. NSG is a controversial variant of sarcoidosis consisting of granulomatous pneumonitis with sarcoid-like granulomas, variable amounts of necrosis, and granulomatous vasculitis. The lesions are most often confined to lung, and they usually appear as multiple nodules or nodular infiltrates, but occasionally as solitary or unilateral nodules ranging up to 5 cm in diameter. Nodular sarcoidosis is rare, varying from 1.6% to 4% of patients with sarcoidosis, and, as the name suggests, it shows radiographic nodules measuring 1 to 5 cm in diameter that typically consist of coalescent granulomas. Lung transplantation can be used in selected patients with fibrotic late-stage sarcoidosis. There is a high reported frequency of recurrence of disease in the pulmonary allograft, ranging from 47% to 67%, but recurrence is usually not clinically significant. Studies of the pathogenesis of sarcoidosis suggest that it is a chronic immunological response produced by a genetic susceptibility and exposure to specific environmental factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Granuloma / immunology
  • Granuloma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inclusion Bodies / pathology
  • Lung / immunology
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • Sarcoidosis / pathology
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / immunology
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / pathology*