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Idiopathic chronic cough: association with organ specific autoimmune disease and bronchoalveolar lymphocytosis
  1. S S Birring,
  2. C E Brightling,
  3. F A Symon,
  4. S G Barlow,
  5. A J Wardlaw,
  6. I D Pavord
  1. Institute for Lung Health, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr S Birring
    Institute for Lung Health, Department of Respiratory Medicine, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester LE3 9QP, UK;


Background: We have recently reported a strong association between organ specific autoimmune disease and idiopathic chronic cough and have suggested that cough may be caused by airway inflammation secondary to aberrant homing of activated lymphocytes to the lung. An immunopathological study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that idiopathic chronic cough is associated with lymphocytic airway inflammation.

Methods: Bronchoscopy, bronchial biopsies, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), and peripheral blood and BAL flow cytometry were performed in 19 patients with idiopathic chronic cough, 14 with explained chronic cough, and 11 normal subjects.

Results: Organ specific autoimmune disease or positive autoantibodies were present in eight of the 19 patients with idiopathic cough, in one of the 14 patients with explained cough, and in one of the 11 normal subjects. Median BAL fluid differential lymphyocyte counts were significantly higher in patients with idiopathic cough (10.0%) than in normal subjects (6.3%, 95% confidence interval of difference 1.5 to 11.9, p = 0.01) or patients with explained cough (5.2%, 95% CI of difference 2.0 to 10.4, p = 0.001). There were no differences in bronchial biopsy T lymphocyte counts between the groups. The mean (SE) proportion of CD3+ peripheral blood mononuclear cells expressing CD4 was significantly higher in normal subjects than in patients with idiopathic cough (69 (3)% v 58 (3)%, mean difference 11%, 95% CI of difference 2 to 20, p<0.02) but not than those with explained chronic cough (63 (2)%). There were no differences in BAL T lymphocyte phenotype between groups.

Conclusion: BAL fluid lymphocytosis occurs in some patients with idiopathic chronic cough. The association of idiopathic chronic cough with organ specific autoimmune disease raises the possibility that this might be caused by lymphocyte homing from the primary site of autoimmune inflammation or the result of an autoimmune process in the lung.

  • chronic cough
  • autoimmune disease
  • bronchoalveolar lavage

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  • Supported by a grant from the British Lung Foundation and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

  • SSB is a British Lung Foundation clinical research fellow.

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