Rationale: Mediastinal lymph node (MLN) enlargement on chest computed tomography (CT) is prevalent in patients with interstitial lung disease (ILD) and may reflect immunologic activation and subsequent cytokine-mediated immune cell trafficking.
Objectives: We aimed to determine whether MLN enlargement on chest CT predicts clinical outcomes and circulating cytokine levels in ILD.
Methods: MLN measurements were obtained from chest CT scans of patients with ILD at baseline evaluation over a 10-year period. Patients with sarcoidosis and drug toxicity-related ILD were excluded. MLN diameter and location were assessed. Plasma cytokine levels were analyzed in a subset of patients. The primary outcome was transplant-free survival (TFS). Secondary outcomes included all-cause and respiratory hospitalizations, lung function, and plasma cytokine concentrations. Cox regression was used to assess mortality risk. Outcomes were assessed in three independent ILD cohorts.
Measurements and main results: Chest CT scans were assessed in 1,094 patients (mean age, 64 yr; 52% male). MLN enlargement (≥10 mm) was present in 66% (n = 726) and strongly predicted TFS (hazard ratio [HR], 1.53; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.12-2.10; P = 0.008) and risk of all-cause and respiratory hospitalizations (internal rate of return [IRR], 1.52; 95% CI, 1.17-1.98; P = 0.002; and IRR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.15-2.53; P = 0.008, respectively) when compared with subjects with MLN <10 mm. Patients with MLN enlargement had lower lung function and decreased plasma concentrations of soluble CD40L (376 pg/ml vs. 505 pg/ml, P = 0.001) compared with those without MLN enlargement. Plasma IL-10 concentration >45 pg/ml predicted mortality (HR, 4.21; 95% CI, 1.21-14.68; P = 0.024). Independent analysis of external datasets confirmed these findings.
Conclusions: MLN enlargement predicts TFS and hospitalization risk in ILD and is associated with decreased levels of a key circulating cytokine, soluble CD40L. Incorporating MLN and cytokine findings into current prediction models might improve ILD prognostication.
Keywords: interstitial lung disease; mediastinal lymph nodes; mortality; pulmonary fibrosis.