Activated p38 MAPK in Peripheral Blood Monocytes of Steroid Resistant Asthmatics

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 30;10(10):e0141909. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141909. eCollection 2015.


Steroid resistance is a significant problem in management of chronic inflammatory diseases, including asthma. Accessible biomarkers are needed to identify steroid resistant patients to optimize their treatment. This study examined corticosteroid resistance in severe asthma. 24 asthmatics with forced expiratory volume in one second of less then 80% predicted were classified as steroid resistant or steroid sensitive based on changes in their lung function following a week of treatment with oral prednisone. Heparinised blood was collected from patients prior to oral prednisone administration. Phosphorylated mitogen activated kinases (MAPK) (extracellular regulated kinase (ERK), p38 and jun kinase (JNK)) were analyzed in whole blood samples using flow cytometry. Activation of phospho-p38 MAPK and phospho-mitogen- and stress-activated protein kinase 1 (MSK1) in asthmatics' peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were confirmed by Western blot. Dexamethasone suppression of the LPS-induced IL-8 mRNA production by steroid resistant asthmatics PBMC in the presence of p38 and ERK inhibitors was evaluated by real time PCR. Flow cytometry analysis identified significantly stronger p38 phosphorylation in CD14+ monocytes from steroid resistant than steroid sensitive asthmatics (p = 0.014), whereas no difference was found in phosphorylation of ERK or JNK in CD14+ cells from these two groups of asthmatics. No difference in phosphorylated p38, ERK, JNK was detected in CD4+, CD8+ T cells, B cells and NK cells from steroid resistant vs. steroid sensitive asthmatics. P38 MAPK pathway activation was confirmed by Western blot, as significantly higher phospho-p38 and phospho-MSK1 levels were detected in the PBMC lysates from steroid resistant asthmatics. P38 inhibitor significantly enhanced DEX suppression of LPS-induced IL-8 mRNA by PBMC of steroid resistant asthmatics. This is the first report demonstrating selective p38 MAPK pathway activation in blood monocytes of steroid resistant asthmatics, suggesting that p38 and MSK1 phosphorylation can serve as blood biomarkers of steroid resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / blood
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / metabolism*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / genetics
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Monocytes / metabolism*
  • Prednisone / pharmacology
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 90-kDa / metabolism
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • Interleukin-8
  • Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinases, 90-kDa
  • mitogen and stress-activated protein kinase 1
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Prednisone