Background: Obliterative bronchiolitis (OB) is the main chronic complication after heart-lung (HLTx) and lung transplantation (LTx), limiting the long-term success of both transplant procedures.
Methods: Since 1981, 135 HLTxs and 61 isolated LTxs were performed in 184 patients at Stanford University.
Results: The overall prevalence of OB in patients surviving longer than 3 months postoperatively was 64% after HLTx and 68% after LTx. The actuarial freedom from OB was 72%, 51%, 44%, and 29% at 1, 2, 3, and 5 years, respectively, after HLTx and LTx. An analysis of potential risk factors revealed that the frequency and severity of acute rejection episodes (p < 0.001) and the appearance of lymphocytic bronchiolitis on biopsy (p < 0.05) were significantly associated with the development of OB. With regard to diagnosis of OB, pulmonary function tests show early reductions of the forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% of the forced vital capacity with subsequent decreases in the forced expiratory volume in 1 second. The sensitivity of transbronchial biopsies has increased to 71% since 1993. Current treatment consists of augmented immunosuppression. Concurrent acute rejection episodes or active OB on biopsy have been treated aggressively with high-dose steroid pulses. Analysis of data from 73 patients with OB after HLTx and LTx revealed actuarial 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year survival of 89%, 71%, 44%, and 17% versus 86%, 77%, 63% and 56% in patients without OB (p < 0.05 by log-rank analysis). The main complication and cause of death in patients with OB was superimposed respiratory tract infection, which was treated aggressively.
Conclusions: Early diagnosis of OB using pulmonary function tests or transbronchial biopsy is possible and important, because immediate treatment initiation has led to acceptable survival rates, with nearly 50% of affected patients still alive 5 years after transplantation. Current experimental research on OB suggests that immune injury is the main pathogenetic event of airway obliteration in animal models; rapamycin and leflunomide are new immunosuppressive agents that may have the potential to prevent and treat airway obliteration.