Background: We investigated whether eosinophils and mast cells, found in the airways of children with wheeze, were activated during relatively asymptomatic periods.
Methods: A nonbronchoscopic bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) procedure was performed on children presenting for an elective surgical procedure. Eosinophil-derived (eosinophil cationic protein, ECP) and mast cell-derived (histamine/tryptase) mediator concentrations were measured in the BAL fluid. A detailed history and serum immunoglobulin E were used to classify the children into four groups: atopic with and without asthma, viral-associated wheeze and normal controls.
Results: The ECP concentrations in BAL from atopic asthmatic subjects were significantly higher than those measured in BAL from normal controls (P < 0.01), no other groups differed significantly. Histamine concentrations were elevated in both the atopic asthmatic and viral-associated wheeze groups compared with controls (P < 0.02) and additionally higher concentrations were obtained in atopics with asthma compared with atopics without asthma (P < 0.03). Tryptase concentrations did not differ between groups, although the tryptase and histamine concentrations correlated significantly (r = 0.78, P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: Elevated histamine concentrations were found in children with wheeze regardless of the aetiology, whereas ECP was only elevated in those asthmatics with atopy. This suggests that even in relatively quiescent periods, there is some on going activation of airway eosinophils in children with atopic asthma.