Background: Although the role of eosinophils in airway inflammation in chronic asthma has been extensively studied, a role for neutrophils has not been well characterized. Furthermore, prior studies have not systematically sought or controlled for factors that might confound the relationship between cellular markers of inflammation and physiologic measures of airway function.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether eosinophilic and neutrophilic inflammation independently contribute to abnormalities of airway function in asthma.
Methods: Multivariate analysis of data collected during screening and enrollment of 205 asthmatic adults for clinical trials was conducted to examine the relationships between cellular inflammation in induced sputum and FEV(1) and methacholine responsiveness (PC(20)) while confounding factors were controlled for.
Results: We found that age, sex, ethnicity, and use of inhaled corticosteroids were important confounding factors of the relationship between cellular inflammation and airway function. When these factors were controlled for, multivariate analysis showed that eosinophil percentage in induced sputum is independently associated with lower FEV(1) and lower PC(20) (P = .005 and P = .005, respectively). In the same models, increased sputum neutrophil percentage is independently associated with lower FEV(1) (P = .038) but not with PC(20) (P = .49).
Conclusions: These results suggest that both eosinophilic inflammation and neutrophilic inflammation independently contribute to abnormalities of FEV(1) in asthma. Therapies directed specifically at control of neutrophilic inflammation might be useful in improving airway caliber in patients with chronic asthma.