Increased YKL-40 and Chitotriosidase in Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Jan 15;193(2):131-42. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201504-0760OC.


Rationale: Serum chitinases may be novel biomarkers of airway inflammation and remodeling, but less is known about factors regulating their levels.

Objectives: To examine serum chitotriosidase activity and YKL-40 levels in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and evaluate clinically relevant factors that may affect chitinase levels, including genetic variability, corticosteroid treatment, disease exacerbations, and allergen exposure.

Methods: Serum chitotriosidase (CHIT1) activity and YKL-40 (CHI3L1) levels, as well as the CHIT1 rs3831317 and CHI3L1 rs4950928 genotypes, were examined in subsets of patients with mild to moderate asthma (n = 76), severe asthma (n = 93), and COPD (n = 64) taking part in the European multicenter BIOAIR (Longitudinal Assessment of Clinical Course and Biomarkers in Severe Chronic Airway Disease) study. Blood was obtained at baseline, before and after a 2-week oral steroid intervention, up to six times during a 1-year period, and during exacerbations. Baseline chitinase levels were also measured in 72 healthy control subjects. The effect of allergen inhalation on blood and sputum YKL-40 levels was measured in two separate groups of patients with mild atopic asthma; one group underwent repeated low-dose allergen challenge (n = 15), and the other underwent high-dose allergen challenge (n = 16).

Measurements and main results: Serum chitotriosidase and YKL-40 were significantly elevated in patients with asthma and those with COPD compared with healthy control subjects. Genotype and age strongly affected both YKL-40 and chitotriosidase activity, but associations with disease remained following adjustment for these factors. Correlations were observed with lung function but not with other biomarkers, including exhaled nitric oxide, blood eosinophils, periostin, and IgE. Generally, acute exacerbations, allergen-induced airway obstruction, and corticosteroid treatment did not affect circulating chitinase levels.

Conclusions: YKL-40 and chitotriosidase are increased in asthma and more so in COPD. The data in the present study support these substances as being relatively steroid-insensitive, non-T-helper cell type 2-type biomarkers distinctly related to chronic inflammatory disease processes.

Keywords: YKL-40; asthma; chitotriosidase; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipokines / blood*
  • Adipokines / genetics
  • Adipokines / immunology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / blood*
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / genetics
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chitinase-3-Like Protein 1
  • Disease Progression
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Hexosaminidases / blood*
  • Hexosaminidases / genetics
  • Hexosaminidases / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lectins / blood*
  • Lectins / genetics
  • Lectins / immunology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / blood*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / genetics
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / immunology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / blood
  • Steroids / pharmacology
  • Steroids / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult


  • Adipokines
  • Biomarkers
  • CHI3L1 protein, human
  • Chitinase-3-Like Protein 1
  • Lectins
  • Steroids
  • Hexosaminidases
  • chitotriosidase