Subpopulations of lymphocytes in the broncho-alveolar air spaces of normal human lungs were compared with those in peripheral blood. Bone marrow-derived (bursal-equivalent) cells (B cells) were identified by complement receptors (EAC rosettes) and by surface immunoglobulin. Thymus-derived lymphocytes (T cells) were identified by their proliferative response to mitogens and the E rosette technique. Cells in lung air spaces were recovered from eight healthy nonsmoking volunteers by segmental lavage with the flexible bronchofiberscope. On the average, macrophages constituted 78% and lymphocytes 17% of the cells in the aspirates. B cells detected by surface immunoglobulin and complement receptors equaled 22% and 15% of lung lymphocytes, respectively. The distribution of lung B cells into heavy chain immunoglobulin classes revealed IgM and IgG to be the predominant classes, with mean values of 14.5% and 9.3%, respectively; the corresponding value for IgA was 5%. A comparable order of frequency (IgM greater than IgG greater than IgA) was observed for purified peripheral blood lymphocytes in the same and other control subjects. T cells comprised the majority (47%) of identifiable lung lymphocytes by the E rosette method. The presence of lung T cells was also corroborated by their proliferative response to mitogens (phytohemagglutinin and concanavallin A), but the response was less than that of equal numbers of peripheral blood lymphocytes from the same subjects. The B/T cell ratio for lung lymphocytes was comparable to results with peripheral blood lymphocytes in the same subjects, but a higher proportion of lung lymphocytes could not be identified as either T or B cells. It is postulated that lung lymphocytes participate in the local immune defenses of the lung.
R P Daniele, M D Altose, D T Rowlands Jr