Fungal infections in lung transplantation

J Thorac Dis. 2021 Nov;13(11):6695-6707. doi: 10.21037/jtd-2021-26.


Lung transplant is a potential life-saving procedure for chronic lung diseases. Lung transplant recipients (LTRs) are at the greatest risk for invasive fungal infections (IFIs) among solid organ transplant (SOT) recipients because the allograft is directly exposed to fungi in the environment, airway and lung host defenses are impaired, and immunosuppressive regimens are particularly intense. IFIs occur within a year of transplant in 3-19% of LTRs, and they are associated with high mortality, prolonged hospital stays, and excess healthcare costs. The most common causes of post-LT IFIs are Aspergillus and Candida spp.; less common pathogens are Mucorales, other non-Aspergillus moulds, Cryptococcus neoformans, Pneumocystis jirovecii, and endemic mycoses. The majority of IFIs occur in the first year following transplant, although later onset is observed with prolonged antifungal prophylaxis. The most common manifestations of invasive mould infections (IMIs) include tracheobronchial (particularly at anastomotic sites), pulmonary and disseminated infections. The mortality rate of tracheobronchitis is typically low, but local complications such as bronchomalacia, stenosis and dehiscence may occur. Mortality rates associated with lung and disseminated infections can exceed 40% and 80%, respectively. IMI risk factors include mould colonization, single lung transplant and augmented immunosuppression. Candidiasis is less common than mould infections, and manifests as bloodstream or other non-pulmonary invasive candidiasis; tracheobronchial infections are encountered uncommonly. Risk factors for and outcomes of candidiasis are similar to those of non lung transplant recipients. There is evidence that IFIs and fungal colonization are risk factors for allograft failure due to chronic rejection. Mould-active azoles are frontline agents for treatment of IMIs, with local debridement as needed for tracheobronchial disease. Echinocandins and azoles are treatments for invasive candidiasis, in keeping with guidelines in other patient populations. Antifungal prophylaxis is commonly administered, but benefits and optimal regimens are not defined. Universal mould-active azole prophylaxis is used most often. Other approaches include targeted prophylaxis of high-risk LTRs or pre-emptive therapy based on culture or galactomannan (GM) (or other biomarker) results. Prophylaxis trials are needed, but difficult to perform due to heterogeneity in local epidemiology of IFIs and standard LT practices. The key to devising rational strategies for preventing IFIs is to understand local epidemiology in context of institutional clinical practices.

Keywords: Invasive fungal infection (IFI); antifungal prophylaxis; lung transplant.

Publication types

  • Review