Background: The majority of asthmatic patients achieve control of their illness; others do not. It is therefore crucial to validate/develop strategies that help the clinician monitor the disease, improving the response to treatment.
Methods: We have quantified the inflammation in central and peripheral airways by measuring exhaled nitric oxide (NO) at multiple exhalation flows in 56 asthmatics at different levels of severity (mild, n = 10; moderate stable, n = 17; moderate during exacerbation, n = 11; severe, n = 18, 7 of whom were receiving oral corticosteroids) and 18 healthy control subjects. The reproducibility of the measurement was also assessed.
Results: Bronchial NO (Jno) in patients with mild asthma (2,363 +/- 330 pL/s) [mean +/- SD] was higher than in patients with moderate stable asthma (1,300 +/- 59 pL/s, p < 0.0005), in patients with severe asthma receiving inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) [1,015 +/- 67 pL/s, p < 0.0005], and healthy control subjects (721 +/- 22 pL/s, p < 0.0001). There were no differences between Jno in patients with mild asthma compared to patients with severe asthma receiving ICS and oral corticosteroids (2,225 +/- 246 pL/s). Patients with exacerbations showed a higher Jno (3,475 +/- 368.9 pL/s, p < 0.05) compared to the other groups. Alveolar NO was higher in patients with severe asthma receiving oral corticosteroids (3.0 +/- 0.1 parts per billion [ppb], p < 0.0001) than in the other groups but was not significantly higher than in patients with moderate asthma during exacerbation (2.8 +/- 0.3 ppb). No differences were seen in NO diffusion levels between the different asthma groups. All the measurements were highly reproducible and free of day-to-day and diurnal variations.
Conclusions: Differential flow analysis of exhaled NO provides additional information about the site of inflammation in asthma and may be useful in assessing the response of peripheral inflammation to therapy.