Pathology, Radiology, and Genetics of Interstitial Lung Disease in Patients With Shortened Telomeres

Am J Surg Pathol. 2021 May 3. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0000000000001725. Online ahead of print.


Interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) in patients with shortened telomeres have not been well characterized. We describe demographic, radiologic, histopathologic, and molecular features, and p16 expression in patients with telomeres ≤10th percentile (shortened telomeres) and compare them to patients with telomere length >10th percentile. Lung explants, wedge biopsies, and autopsy specimens of patients with telomere testing were reviewed independently by 3 pathologists using defined parameters. High-resolution computed tomography scans were reviewed by 3 radiologists. p16-positive fibroblast foci were quantified. A multidisciplinary diagnosis was recorded. Patients with shortened telomeres (N=26) were morphologically diagnosed as usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) (N=11, 42.3%), chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (N=6, 23.1%), pleuroparenchymal fibroelastosis, fibrotic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, desquamative interstitial pneumonia (N=1, 3.8%, each), and fibrotic interstitial lung disease (fILD), not otherwise specified (N=6, 23.1%). Patients with telomeres >10th percentile (N=18) showed morphologic features of UIP (N=9, 50%), chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (N=3, 16.7%), fibrotic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia (N=2, 11.1%), or fILD, not otherwise specified (N=4, 22.2%). Patients with shortened telomeres had more p16-positive foci (P=0.04). The number of p16-positive foci correlated with outcome (P=0.0067). Thirty-nine percent of patients with shortened telomeres harbored telomere-related gene variants. Among 17 patients with shortened telomeres and high-resolution computed tomography features consistent with or probable UIP, 8 (47.1%) patients showed morphologic features compatible with UIP; multidisciplinary diagnosis most commonly was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (N=7, 41.2%) and familial pulmonary fibrosis (N=5, 29%) in these patients. In conclusion, patients with shortened telomeres have a spectrum of fILDs. They often demonstrate atypical and discordant features on pathology and radiology leading to diagnostic challenges.