Treated Wegener's granulomatosis: distinctive pathological findings in the lungs of 20 patients and what they tell us about the natural history of the disease

Hum Pathol. 1997 Apr;28(4):450-8. doi: 10.1016/s0046-8177(97)90034-4.


Patients with an established diagnosis of Wegener's granulomatosis (WG) sometimes undergo lung biopsy when the disease does not behave in the expected manner. Treatment affects the tissue reaction. The microscopic recognition of partially treated disease is important, as the absence of expected lesions may lead to nonspecific diagnoses and inappropriate management. The appearance of treated disease over time may offer insight into its histogenesis and natural history. We correlated clinical features and pulmonary histology in 20 patients with WG after they had been treated with corticosteroids or cyclophosphamide or both. All patients had inflammatory or fibrotic pulmonary disease resulting from WG, but only 4 (20%) had macronodular necrosis typical of WG. Serum antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA) was elevated in all patients in whom it was measured. We divided the pathological findings into (1) vasculitis, (2) extravascular necrosis, (3) bronchiolitis, and (4) other lesions, and further divided them into (a) diagnostic for active disease, (b) suspicious for active disease, (c) suspicious for healing disease, (d) suspicious for residual disease, and (e) possible disease. Diagnostic or suspicious vascular lesions occurred in 15 patients (75%) and included granulomatous vasculitis, capillaritis or suspicious capillaritis, and neutrophilic vasculitis. Diagnostic or suspicious extravascular lesions occurred in 12 patients (60%) and included palisading granuloma, microabscess, macronodular pathergic necrosis, giant cell nodules, and micronodular scars. The giant cell nodules and nodular scars were an unusual healing pattern of palisading granulomas. Diagnostic bronchiolar lesions occurred in 1 patient (6%) and suspicious lesions in 13 patients (65%), including three novel patterns of bronchiolitis fibrosa (BF): (1) BF with giant cells, (2) BF with hemosiderin, and (3) BF with micronodular scars. Other features related to WG included diffuse alveolar damage, peculiar alveolar fibrin, interstitial fibrosis, pneumonitis resembling usual interstitial pneumonitis, and lipoid pneumonia. Classic necrotic nodules and vasculitis of WG should not be anticipated after therapy, but the diagnosis of pulmonary WG after treatment may be made if the effects of treatment on histology are considered. Changes in anticipated histology are found after therapy as short as 6 days. The histology typically has muted features. BF develops in most patients and may reflect a salutary effect of therapy. Palisading granuloma may convert to giant cell nodule or micronodular scar. Interstitial fibrosis is common, and pneumonitis resembling usual interstitial pneumonitis can develop. If only healing or residual disease is encountered, one should search further clinically and pathologically for active disease. Dampened inflammatory lesions represent smoldering disease that presumably needs additional therapy. Scarring presumably represents successfully treated but permanent disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic / blood
  • Bronchiolitis / pathology
  • Female
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Necrosis
  • Vasculitis / pathology


  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic