Detection of alveolar fibrocytes in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and systemic sclerosis

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53736. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053736. Epub 2013 Jan 16.


Background: Fibrocytes are circulating precursors for fibroblasts. Blood fibrocytes are increased in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The aim of this study was to determine whether alveolar fibrocytes are detected in broncho-alveolar lavage (BAL), to identify their prognostic value, and their potential association with culture of fibroblasts from BAL.

Methods: We quantified fibrocytes in BAL from 26 patients with IPF, 9 patients with Systemic Sclerosis(SSc)-interstitial lung disease (ILD), and 11 controls. BAL cells were cultured to isolate alveolar fibroblasts.

Results: Fibrocytes were detected in BAL in 14/26 IPF (54%) and 5/9 SSc patients (55%), and never in controls. Fibrocytes were in median 2.5% [0.4-19.7] and 3.0% [2.7-3.7] of BAL cells in IPF and SSc-ILD patients respectively. In IPF patients, the number of alveolar fibrocytes was correlated with the number of alveolar macrophages and was associated with a less severe disease but not with a better outcome. Fibroblasts were cultured from BAL in 12/26 IPF (46%), 5/9 SSc-ILD (65%) and never in controls. The detection of BAL fibrocytes did not predict a positive culture of fibroblasts.

Conclusion: Fibrocytes were detected in BAL fluid in about half of the patients with IPF and SSc-ILD. Their number was associated with less severe disease in IPF patients and did not associate with the capacity to grow fibroblasts from BAL fluid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage
  • Cell Count
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / pathology*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / therapy
  • Time Factors

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a grant from the Association des Sclérodermiques de France (ASF), the Groupe Français de Recherche sur la Sclérodermie, the Chancellerie des Universités de Paris (legs Poix), the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale, l'association Pierre Enjalran and the European Commission (FP7 grant agreement #202224, European IPF Network). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.