The Association between Exposures and Disease Characteristics in Familial Pulmonary Fibrosis

Carla R. Copeland, Edwin F. Donnelly, Mitra Mehrad, Guixiao Ding, Cheryl R. Markin, Katrina Douglas, Pingsheng Wu, Joy D. Cogan, Lisa R. Young, Brian J. Bartholmai, Fernando J. Martinez, Kevin R. Flaherty, James E. Loyd, Lisa H. Lancaster, Jonathan A. Kropski, Timothy S. Blackwell, Margaret L. Salisbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Heterogeneous characteristics are observed in familial pulmonary fibrosis (FPF), suggesting that nongenetic factors contribute to disease manifestations. Objectives: To determine the relationship between environmental exposures and disease characteristics of FPF, including the morphological characteristics on chest computed tomography (CT) scan, and timing of FPF symptom onset, lung transplantation, or death. Methods: Subjects with FPF with an exposure questionnaire and chest CT were selected from a prospective cohort at Vanderbilt. Disease characteristics were defined by lung parenchymal findings on chest CT associated with fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (fHP) or usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) and by time from birth to symptom onset or a composite of lung transplantation or death. After assessing the potential for confounding by sex or smoking, adjusted logistic or Cox proportional hazards regression models identified exposures associated with fHP or UIP CT findings. Findings were validated in a cohort of patients with sporadic pulmonary fibrosis enrolled in the LTRC (Lung Tissue Research Consortium) study. Results: Among 159 subjects with FPF, 98 (61.6%) were males and 96 (60.4%) were ever-smokers. Males were less likely to have CT features of fHP, including mosaic attenuation (FPF: adjusted [for sex and smoking] odds ratio [aOR], 0.27; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.09-0.76; P = 0.01; LTRC: aOR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.21-0.61; P = 0.0002). Organic exposures, however, were not consistently associated with fHP features in either cohort. Smoking was a risk factor for honeycombing in both cohorts (FPF: aOR, 2.19; 95% CI, 1.12-4.28; P = 0.02; LTRC: aOR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.22-2.33; P = 0.002). Rock dust exposure may also be associated with honeycombing, although the association was not statistically-significant when accounting for sex and smoking (FPF: aOR, 2.27; 95% CI, 0.997-5.15; P = 0.051; LTRC: aOR, 1.51; 95% CI, 0.97-2.33; P = 0.07). In the FPF cohort, ever-smokers experienced a shorter transplant-free survival (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.07-2.52; P = 0.02), whereas sex was not associated with differential survival (male adjusted hazard ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.50-1.14; P = 0.18). Conclusions: In FPF, smoking contributes to shortened transplant-free survival and development of honeycombing, a finding that is also likely applicable to sporadic pulmonary fibrosis. Females are more likely to manifest CT features of fHP (mosaic attenuation), a finding that was incompletely explained by sex differences in exposures. These findings may have implications for pulmonary fibrosis classification and management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2003-2012
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022


  • environmental exposure
  • interstitial lung diseases
  • pulmonary fibrosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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