Background: Dendritic cells (DCs) have been reported to be increased in the small airways of patients with COPD, but the maturity status of these cells is unclear. We have quantified the numbers of cells expressing markers associated with DC maturation.
Methods: Lung tissue was obtained at resection for lung cancer from 41 patients with COPD (30 current smokers and 11 ex-smokers; 32 steroid-treated patients and 9 steroid-naïve patients), 19 ex-smokers without COPD and 9 never-smokers without COPD. Tissue sections were immunostained for CD1a to mark immature DCs, and for CD83, fascin, and DC-lysosome-associated membrane protein (DC-LAMP) to delineate mature DCs.
Results: The volume density (ie, the volume of DCs as the percentage volume of the airway wall) comprising CD83+ DCs was significantly reduced in patients with COPD (median, 0; range, 0 to 5.1%) vs smokers (median, 2.8%; range, 0 to 10.2%) and never-smokers (median, 1.9%; range, 0.8 to 5.1%) without COPD (p = 0.000 and 0.012, respectively). Using a semiquantitative score for the alveolar wall, CD83+ DCs also were decreased in patients with COPD (median, 0; range, 0 to 2%) vs smokers (median, 1%; range, 0 to 2%) and never-smokers (median, 1%; range, 0.7 to 2%) without COPD (p = 0.004 and 0.04, respectively). No differences were detected in CD83+ DCs between current smokers and ex-smokers with COPD or between steroid-treated and steroid-naive patients. No differences were detected in CD1a+ DCs. Fascin and DC-LAMP were found to have poor specificity for mature DCs.
Conclusions: COPD is associated with decreased numbers of (mature) CD83+ DCs in small airways and alveoli. The relevance of such a reduction on pulmonary immune responses requires further investigation.