Primary Pulmonary Lymphoid Lesions: Radiologic and Pathologic Findings

Radiographics. 2016 Jan-Feb;36(1):53-70. doi: 10.1148/rg.2016140339.


The pulmonary lymphoid system is complex and is composed of two compartments: the pulmonary lymphatics and the bronchus-associated lymphoid tissue (BALT). Additional important cells that function in the pulmonary lymphoid system include dendritic cells, Langherhans cells, macrophages, and plasma cells. An appreciation of the normal lymphoid anatomy of the lung as well as its immunology is helpful in understanding the radiologic and pathologic findings of the primary pulmonary lymphoid lesions. Primary lymphoid lesions of the lung arise from the BALT and are uncommon. However, they are increasingly recognized within the growing number of posttransplant patients as well as other patients who are receiving immunosuppressive therapies. Primary lymphoid lesions encompass a wide range of benign and malignant lesions. Benign lymphoid lesions of the lung include reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, follicular bronchiolitis, lymphoid interstitial pneumonia, and nodular lymphoid hyperplasia. Malignant lymphoid lesions of the lung include low-grade B-cell lymphoma of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT), other non-Hodgkin lymphomas, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Last, a miscellaneous group of primary lymphoid lesions includes lymphomatoid granulomatosis, posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorders, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related lymphoma, and intravascular lymphoma/lymphomatosis. These lesions are best evaluated with multidetector chest computed tomography. The radiologic findings of the primary lymphoid lesions are often nonspecific and are best interpreted in correlation with clinical data and pathologic findings. The purpose of this article is to review pulmonary lymphoid anatomy as well as the most common primary pulmonary lymphoid disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymph Nodes / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology*
  • Lymphatic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*