Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a complex disease with multiple phenotypes that cannot be identified through measurement of lung function alone. The importance of COPD risk assessment, phenotype identification, and diagnosis of exacerbation magnify the need for validated biomarkers in COPD. A large number of potential biomarkers have already been assessed and some appear promising, in particular fibrinogen, which is likely to be the first COPD biomarker presented to the Food and Drug Administration for qualification in the drug approval process. Blood fibrinogen and c-reactive protein (CRP) have been associated with the presence of COPD and, in some instances, future risk of developing COPD in targeted populations. Sputum neutrophil counts have been used preliminarily as biomarkers of favorable response to therapy in COPD, but use in clinical settings may be limited. Other potential blood biomarkers include pulmonary and activation-regulated chemokine (PARC/CCL-18) and the clara cell secretory protein 16 (CC-16). Integrative indices, such as the BODE index, provide a framework to determine prognosis, predict outcome, and may be responsive to therapeutic interventions. Computed tomography provides a means to assess phenotypes and identify the relative extents of small airways disease and emphysema, which themselves may inform prognosis and therapeutic decision making. Fibrinogen and other markers of systemic inflammation are elevated in the context of acute COPD exacerbations and may also identify those at risk of accelerated lung function decline and hospitalization. So far, no single biomarker in COPD warrants wide acceptance emphasizing the need for future investigation of biomarkers in large-scale longitudinal studies.
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