Inflammatory biomarkers in airways of patients with severe asthma compared with non-severe asthma

Clin Exp Allergy. 2009 Nov;39(11):1668-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2009.03319.x. Epub 2009 Jul 20.


Background: About 5-10% of patients with asthma suffer from poorly-controlled disease despite corticosteroid (CS) therapy.

Objective: We determined whether there were any differences in inflammatory biomarkers between severe and non-severe asthma patients.

Methods: Nineteen severe and 20 non-severe asthma patients were recruited and underwent collection of induced sputum, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and bronchial biopsies.

Results: Biopsy results showed no differences in eosinophils (major basic protein positive), neutrophils, macrophages, T cells and mast cells in the bronchial submucosa. However, subbasement membrane (SBM) thickness and smooth muscle area were increased in the biopsies. No significant differences were observed in the induced sputum inflammatory cells. In BAL fluid, there was a significant increase in neutrophils but a significant decrease in macrophages. Eosinophil counts were non-significantly increased threefold in both sputum and BAL in severe asthma. Levels of IL-8 and IL-13 in sputum supernatants were similar in both groups of asthma patients. There was a significant inverse correlation between post-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in 1 s and provocative concentration of methacholine causing a 20% fall in FEV(1) with SBM thickness.

Conclusion: Differences in inflammatory cells were observed mainly in terms of increased neutrophils and reduction in macrophage numbers in BAL fluid with a trend towards increased eosinophils in severe asthma compared with non-severe asthma. However, the most notable features are the increase in features of airway wall remodelling of SBM thickness and smooth muscle area.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / metabolism*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-13 / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism*
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Leukocytes / pathology
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / pathology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sputum / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • CXCL8 protein, human
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Interleukin-13
  • Interleukin-8