Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a frequent manifestation of systemic sclerosis (SSc), and cytokines can contribute to the disease pathology. The aim of the current study was to identify specific changes in cytokine levels that may serve as disease markers and possible targets for therapy.
Cytokines were measured with bioplex analysis in 38 bronchoalveolar fluids (BALFs) from 32 SSc patients (27 with alveolitis and 11 without alveolitis) and 26 control patients. In the case of SSc patients, cytokines were correlated with the respective bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cell differentiation, lung function, and thoracic HR-CT score. For 35 BALF samples derived from 29 SSc patients, follow-up investigations of clinical data, lung-function parameter, or thoracic HR-CT scans were available to evaluate the predictive capacity of BALF cytokines and chemokines.
High IL-7 levels were characteristic of SSc-associated interstitial lung disease (ILD) and, in addition, when compared with ILD-negative SSc patients, ILD-positive SSc patients revealed higher IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, and CCL2 (MCP-1) BALF levels. High CCL2 and IL-8 BALF concentrations were associated with neutrophilic and mixed alveolitis. Cytokine levels of IL-4, IL-8, and CCL2 correlated negatively with lung-function parameters; CCL2 concentrations also correlated with HR-CT scores. High concentrations of several cytokines were associated with the progress of ILD and end-stage ILD. Univariate analyses revealed high IL-2 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) levels as the best predictors for progressive disease, together with lung-function parameters, young age, and neutrophilic alveolitis. Multivariate analyses partially confirmed these results but did not sufficiently converge because of the limited number of patients.
The association of BALF cytokines with lung fibrosis and its progress suggests that cytokines contribute to the pathogenesis of ILD and hence could be regarded as potential therapeutic targets.