Study objective: to ascertain whether measuring the proliferative response of bronchoalveolar lymphocytes to beryllium salts is useful for diagnosing chronic beryllium disease.
Design: prospective case series compared to normal volunteers and patients with sarcoidosis.
Setting: university referral center.
Patients: twenty-three consecutive beryllium workers were evaluated. Fourteen had chronic beryllium disease diagnosed on the basis of histologic evidence of a progressive pulmonary granulomatosis. Four had biopsy evidence of non-beryllium disease. Three had probable chronic beryllium disease but did not have lung biopsies. Two did not have biopsies and had basilar fibrosis on chest roentgenogram suggestive of non-beryllium lung disease. These patients were compared with 6 normal volunteers and 16 patients with sarcoidosis.
Measurements and main results: bronchoalveolar lavage was done and the proliferative response of the lung cells to two beryllium salts was tested. A positive proliferative test was defined as a stimulation index of more than five on two determinations. The sensitivity of this test was 100% in the 14 patients with definite chronic beryllium disease. The specificity of the test was also 100% among the normal volunteers and the 16 patients with sarcoidosis. The test was positive in none of the four patients with biopsy evidence of non-beryllium disease, none out of two patients with lower lobe fibrosis suggestive of non-beryllium disease, and all of three patients with probable chronic beryllium lung disease.
Conclusions: the proliferative response of bronchoalveolar lymphocytes to beryllium appears to be a useful test for chronic beryllium disease.