BACKGROUND: Previous studies have shown that patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) were more likely to be seropositive for hepatitis C virus (HCV) than normal controls, and that patients with chronic hepatitis C treated with interferon alpha (IFN-alpha) sometimes developed pulmonary fibrosis. The possibility that HCV infection and/or treatment with IFN-alpha are involved in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis or alveolitis was investigated. METHODS: A prospective non-randomised study was performed in 13 healthy controls and in patients with chronic hepatitis C before (n = 13) and after (n = 10) treatment with IFN-alpha. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid cell counts, ratios and T cell subsets, and the concentrations of interleukin (IL)-1 beta, tumour necrosis factor(TNF)-alpha, and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) were measured. RESULTS: Lymphocyte counts in the BAL fluid were significantly increased in both groups of patients (median (range) values: before treatment, 36.8 (1.5-226.0); after treatment, 16.2 (4.5-97.6)) compared with the normal controls (3.3 (0.5-32.3)). In the pretreatment group the activated T cell (HLA-Dr positive) count was also increased (51 (40-74)) compared with that in the normal controls (27 (4-52)), but after treatment it was decreased (40 (0-76)) compared with the pretreatment count. Administration of IFN-alpha did not affect these parameters. IL-1 beta, TNF-alpha, and HGF were not detected. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that HCV infection is associated with increased counts of lymphocytes and neutrophils in BAL fluid and that treatment with IFN-alpha appears to alter lymphocyte surface markers.
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