Effect of tumor necrosis factor antagonism on allergen-mediated asthmatic airway inflammation

Respir Med. 2005 Sep;99(9):1175-82. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2005.02.031. Epub 2005 Mar 23.


Objective: To assess whether tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonism can attenuate eosinophilic airway inflammation in patients with mild-to-moderate allergic asthma.

Design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Setting: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center.

Patients: Twenty-six patients with mild-to-moderate allergic asthma, receiving only inhaled beta-2-agonists, who demonstrated both an early and late phase response to inhalational allergen challenge.

Intervention: Injection of a soluble TNF receptor (TNFR:Fc, etanercept, Enbrel) or placebo, 25mg subcutaneously, twice weekly for 2 weeks, followed by a bronchoscopic segmental allergen challenge.

Measurements: The primary outcome measure was whether TNFR:Fc can access the lung and inhibit TNF bioactivity. Secondary outcome measures included pulmonary eosinophilia, Th2-type cytokines, and airway hyperresponsiveness.

Results: Anti-TNF therapy was associated with transient hemiplegia in one patient, which resulted in suspension of the study. Data from the 21 participants who completed the study were analyzed. Following treatment, patients receiving anti-TNF therapy had significantly increased TNFR2 levels in epithelial lining fluid (ELF) (P<0.001), consistent with delivery of TNFR:Fc to the lung. TNF antagonism did not attenuate pulmonary eosinophilia and was associated with an increase in ELF IL-4 levels (P=0.033) at 24h following segmental allergen challenge. TNF antagonism was not associated with a change in airway hyperresponsiveness to methacholine.

Conclusions: TNF antagonism may not be effective for preventing allergen-mediated eosinophilic airway inflammation in mild-to-moderate asthmatics. Transient hemiplegia, which may mimic an evolving stroke, may be a potential toxicity of anti-TNF therapy.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Airway Obstruction / drug therapy
  • Allergens / immunology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / drug therapy
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / cytology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Etanercept
  • Female
  • Hemiplegia / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / adverse effects
  • Immunoglobulin G / therapeutic use*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Eosinophilia / drug therapy*
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / therapeutic use*
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Allergens
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cytokines
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Etanercept