Objective: To evaluate the relationship between alveolar macrophage (AM) elastase and plasminogen activator (PA) activities (considered to be potential pathogenetic factors in emphysema) and the development of emphysema in smokers.
Participants: Thirty-four healthy smokers >35 years of age (mean+/-SD, 46+/-7 years), with a mean+/-SD of 33+/-10 pack-years of smoking, who were recruited as volunteers.
Methods: Subjects had lung function testing and BAL to obtain AMs; limited high-resolution CT scans of the chest were obtained in 32 subjects to assess the presence of emphysema. Macrophage PA and elastase were determined using AM cultured on (131)I-fibrin-coated plates and 3H-elastin-coated plates, respectively.
Results: The number of AMs recovered per milliliter of BAL was significantly greater in the 16 subjects with CT evidence of mild emphysema than the 16 subjects without evidence of emphysema (669+/-301 x 10(3)/mL vs 414+/-268x 10(3)/mL; p=0.01). There was no significant difference between AM elastase or PA activities in the 16 subjects with CT evidence of mild emphysema, when compared with the 16 subjects who had no CT evidence of emphysema (elastase, 2.72+/-1.35 microg vs 2.49+/-0.91 microg elastin per 10(6) AMs per first 24 h; PA, 0.375+/-0.126 vs 0.344+/-0.096 urokinase units/10(6) AMs). There was no significant correlation between levels of PA or elastase activities and FEV1, FEV1/FVC, forced expiratory flow rate between 25% and 75% of the FVC; PA activity but not elastase activity had a significant negative correlation (r=-0.47, p<0.01) with diffusion of carbon monoxide (DCO). The macrophage count in BAL had a significant negative correlation with DCO percent predicted (r=-0.61, p<0.001).
Conclusions: The findings suggest that the number of AMs recovered per milliliter of BAL (presumably indicating the number in the alveolar spaces) is related to the development of emphysema in smokers as indicated by CT scan of the chest and DCO. The results also suggest that the level of PA enzyme activity in AMs may be a pathogenetic factor in the decrease in DCO in smokers.