Inhaled and systemic corticosteroid response in severe asthma assessed by alveolar nitric oxide: a randomized crossover pilot study of add-on therapy

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Jan;75(1):93-102. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04319.x.


Aims: Alveolar nitric oxide (CA(NO)) is a potential biomarker of small airway inflammation. We investigated effects on CA(NO) of the addition of coarse and fine particle inhaled corticosteroids to standard therapy in severe asthma.

Methods: Severe asthmatics taking ≥1600 µg day(-1) budesonide or equivalent performed a randomized open-label crossover study. Subjects with FEV(1) < 80%, gas trapping and CA(NO) ≥2 ppb entered a 6 week dose-ramp run-in of fluticasone/salmeterol(FPSM) 250/50 µg twice daily for 3 weeks, then 500/50 µg twice daily for 3 weeks. Patients then received additional HFA-beclomethasone diproprionate (BDP) 200 µg twice daily or FP 250 µg twice daily for 3 weeks in a crossover. Participants then received prednisolone(PRED) 25 mg day(-1) for 1 week. Nitric oxide, lung function, mannitol challenge, systemic inflammatory markers and urinary cortisol were measured.

Results: Fifteen completed per protocol: mean (SD) age 51 (12) years, FEV(1) 58 (13)% predicted, residual volume 193 (100)% predicted and mannitol(PD10) 177 (2.8) µg. There was no significant difference between FPSM and add-on therapy for CA(NO). FPSM/BDP and FPSM/PRED suppressed broncial flux (Jaw(NO)) and FE(NO) compared with FPSM alone, but there was no significant difference between FPSM/BDP and FPSM/FP. ECP, e-selectin and ICAM-1 were suppressed by FPSM/PRED compared with FPSM and FPSM/FP but not FPSM/BDP. Plasma cortisol was significantly suppressed by FPSM/PRED.

Conclusion: In severe asthma, CA(NO) is insensitive to changes in dose and delivery of inhaled corticosteroids and is not suppressed by systemic corticosteroids. Additional inhaled HFA-BDP reduced FE(NO) and Jaw(NO) without adrenal suppression. There was a trend to reduction in FE(NO) and Jaw(NO) with additional FP but this did not reach statistical significance. PRED reduced FE(NO) and Jaw(NO) with suppression of systemic inflammatory markers and urinary cortisol.

Trial registration: NCT00829257.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / metabolism*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Nitric Oxide

Associated data