Rationale: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has a genetic component, explaining susceptibility. Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha polymorphisms have been associated with COPD, but it is unclear if genotype influences clinical phenotype, protein expression, and bioactivity.
Objectives: To determine if a functional polymorphism was important by assessing TNF-alpha expression and activity and its association with clinical severity over time.
Methods: Patients with COPD with rs361525 polymorphism were matched to patients with COPD without rs361525 polymorphism. TNF-alpha, its antagonists, and downstream mediators were measured in plasma and sputum. To determine TNF-alpha bioactivity, IL-8 secretion from primary bronchial epithelial cells (PBECs) was measured, and neutrophil migration was assessed using sputum from both subject groups in the presence and absence of TNF-alpha antibody. Subjects were followed annually and compared.
Measurements and main results: Patients with polymorphism had more chronic bronchitis, a lower body mass index, and a greater annual decline in FEV(1) than patients with COPD without rs361525 polymorphism. TNF-alpha concentrations were 100-fold higher in airway secretions from the patients with the rs361525 polymorphism, with no difference in TNF-alpha antagonists. Their lung secretions contained more IL-8 and myeloperoxidase, consistent with downstream inflammation. Sputum from patients with rs361525 polymorphism induced greater secretion of IL-8 from PBECs and increased neutrophil migration. These effects could be abrogated by TNF-alpha antibody, demonstrating the bioactivity of TNF-alpha in lung secretions from this group.
Conclusions: This TNF-alpha polymorphism is associated with clinical features of disease including progression. There is clear evidence of TNF-alpha overexpression and bioactivity with neutrophilic inflammation. The polymorphism is likely to be a factor that influences a COPD disease phenotype and its progression.