BACKGROUND--Alveolitis in pulmonary sarcoidosis is characterised by an accumulation of highly activated macrophages and CD4+ lymphocytes in the alveolar compartment. The role of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1) expression on alveolar cells has been studied in this context. METHODS--Using a sandwich ELISA technique, ICAM-1 expression on alveolar macrophages from 17 consecutive untreated patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis and six healthy normal volunteers was quantified. In addition, parameters of macrophage activation (tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and superoxide anion release) were evaluated. RESULTS--Significantly elevated expression could be demonstrated on alveolar macrophages from patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis compared with healthy controls (mean (SD) 0.74 (0.24) ELISA units (EU) v 0.46 (0.12) EU). On subdividing the patients into those with active and those with inactive disease, only the former showed increased ICAM-1 levels on alveolar macrophages (0.82 (0.27) EU) compared with control alveolar macrophages. No differences were detected in serum levels of soluble ICAM-1 between patients and controls. ICAM-1 expression on alveolar macrophages from patients with sarcoidosis correlated with the spontaneous release of TNF alpha but not with the release of the superoxide anion by the activated macrophages. There was no correlation with the percentage of lymphocytes or the absolute number of CD4+ cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. CONCLUSIONS--Increased ICAM-1 surface expression on alveolar macrophages reflects disease activity in the pulmonary compartment. Considering the significance of adhesion molecules during antigen presentation and lymphocyte activation, ICAM-1 expression on alveolar macrophages may have an important role in the immune process of pulmonary sarcoidosis.
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