Background: Assessment of airway inflammation in asthma is becoming increasingly important, as the inflammatory phenotype underpins the treatment response.
Objective: This study aimed to evaluate mannitol as a tool for assessing airway responsiveness and airway inflammation in asthma, compared with hypertonic saline.
Methods: Fifty-five subjects with stable asthma completed a hypertonic (4.5%) saline challenge and a mannitol challenge at two separate visits, performed 48-72 h apart, in random order.
Results: Induced sputum was obtained from 49 (89%) subjects during the saline challenge and 42 (76%) subjects during the mannitol challenge (P>0.05). There was a significant correlation between the greatest percentage fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV(1)) (r=0.6, P<0.0001), the dose-response slope (r=0.73), cumulative dose (r=0.55) and PD15 (r=0.46) for mannitol and hypertonic saline. The greatest percentage fall in FEV(1) to mannitol was less in non-eosinophilic asthma. There was a lower total cell count in mannitol vs. hypertonic-saline-induced sputum. However, sputum eosinophils and neutrophils were not significantly different. Using mannitol, a higher proportion of subjects were classified as having eosinophilic asthma. There were no differences in IL-8, neutrophil elastase or matrix-metalloproteinase 9 concentrations in sputum samples induced with mannitol or hypertonic saline.
Conclusion: We conclude that mannitol can be used to induce good-quality sputum, useful for analysis of inflammatory mediators and for predicting the inflammatory phenotype in asthma.