Limitations of using urea to quantify epithelial lining fluid recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1987 Jun;135(6):1276-80. doi: 10.1164/arrd.1987.135.6.1276.


The quantitation of substances in the epithelial lining fluid (ELF) of the lower respiratory tract, as obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), is not precise because of the variable dilution of the ELF by the instilled lavage fluid. It has been reported that the absolute concentration of proteins in ELF can be determined by using the ratio of urea concentration in BAL fluid to that in serum as a method to calculate the volume of ELF recovered by BAL. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the error caused by diffusion of urea into the instilled lavage fluid can be minimized by instilling only 100 ml (5 X 20 ml) of saline rather than 300 ml (6 X 50 ml). We tested the validity of this method by collecting and individually analyzing aliquots from 2 different BAL protocols--a 100-ml (5 X 20 ml) BAL and a 300-ml (6 X 50 ml) BAL--performed in 6 healthy, nonsmoking subjects. Total protein, albumin, and urea were measured in each aliquot and in pooled fluid from each BAL procedure, and urea was measured in serum. In the 300-ml BAL, total protein and albumin concentrations tended to decrease progressively from the second to the sixth aliquots. In contrast, the urea concentration increased progressively from the first to the sixth aliquots. The concentration of albumin in ELF, calculated from the concentration of urea and albumin in each BAL aliquot, tended to decrease in each successive aliquot, becoming significant by the fourth aliquot.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Albumins / analysis
  • Blood Cell Count
  • Bronchi / cytology
  • Bronchi / metabolism*
  • Cell Count
  • Epithelium / metabolism
  • Exudates and Transudates / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*
  • Therapeutic Irrigation / methods
  • Urea / analysis*


  • Albumins
  • Proteins
  • Urea