Rationale: To evaluate bacterial colonization and the airway inflammatory response, and its relationship to the frequency of exacerbation in patients with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Methods: Quantitative bacteriologic cultures, neutrophil elastase, myeloperoxidase (MPO), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin (IL)-8 were measured in bronchoalveoler lavage (BAL) in 39 patients with stable COPD [19 with frequent exacerbation (> or = 3/year), and 20 with infrequent] and in 18 healthy controls (10 smokers and 8 non-smokers).
Results: BAL revealed the microorganisms with potential pathogenicity above the established threshold (> or = 10(3)cfu/ml) in 68.4% of patients with frequent exacerbation, 55% of infrequent exacerbation, 40% of smokers and 12.5% of non-smokers controls (P=0.05). BAL MPO, IL-8 and TNF-alpha levels were found to be significantly higher in COPD as compared to controls (P=0.001). However, only IL-8 level was significantly higher in COPD patients with frequent exacerbation as compared to infrequent (P=0.001). Airway bacterial load correlated with levels of airway inflammation markers in COPD (P<0.05).
Conclusion: The bacterial load and airway inflammation contributes to each other in stable COPD. However, there is a link only between interleukine (IL)-8 and frequent exacerbations. Clearly, the relationship between bacterial colonization, airway inflammation and frequent exacerbations is of major importance in understanding of the COPD pathogenesis.