Rationale: Exhaled nitric oxide (NO) is a well-known marker of established airway inflammation in asthma. Its role in the disease process before the onset of respiratory symptoms remains unclear.
Objectives: To examine whether elevated NO in newborns with clinically naive airways is associated with subsequent respiratory symptoms in infancy.
Methods: We measured exhaled NO concentration and output after birth and prospectively assessed respiratory symptoms during infancy in a birth cohort of 164 unselected healthy neonates. We examined a possible association between NO and respiratory symptoms using Poisson regression analysis.
Results: In infants of atopic mothers, elevated NO levels after birth were associated with increased risk of subsequent respiratory symptoms (risk ratio [RR], 7.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7-32.4 for each nl/s increase in NO output; p = 0.007). Similarly, a positive association between NO and symptoms was seen in infants of smoking mothers (RR, 6.6; 95% CI, 2.3-19.3; p = 0.001), with the strongest association in infants whose mothers had both risk factors (RR, 21.8; 95% CI, 5.8-81.3; p < 0.001).
Conclusions: The interaction of NO with maternal atopy and smoking on subsequent respiratory symptoms is present early in life. Clinically, noninvasive NO measurements in newborns may prove useful as a new means to identify high-risk infants. Future confirmation of a role for NO metabolism in the evolution of respiratory disease may provide an avenue for preventative strategies.