House Dust Endotoxin Levels Are Associated with Adult Asthma in a U.S. Farming Population

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2017 Mar;14(3):324-331. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201611-861OC.


Rationale: Endotoxin initiates a proinflammatory response from the innate immune system. Studies in children suggest that endotoxin exposure from house dust may be an important risk factor for asthma, but few studies have been conducted in adult populations.

Objectives: To investigate the association of house dust endotoxin levels with asthma and related phenotypes (wheeze, atopy, and pulmonary function) in a large U.S. farming population.

Methods: Dust was collected from the bedrooms (n = 2,485) of participants enrolled in a case-control study of current asthma (927 cases) nested within the Agricultural Health Study. Dust endotoxin was measured by Limulus amebocyte lysate assay. Outcomes were measured by questionnaire, spirometry, and blood draw. We evaluated associations using linear and logistic regression.

Measurements and main results: Endotoxin was significantly associated with current asthma (odds ratio [OR], 1.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.14-1.47), and this relationship was modified by early-life farm exposure (born on a farm: OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.02-1.37; not born on a farm: OR, 1.67; 95% CI, 1.26-2.20; Interaction P = 0.05). Significant positive associations were seen with both atopic and nonatopic asthma. Endotoxin was not related to either atopy or wheeze. Higher endotoxin was related to lower FEV1/FVC in asthma cases only (Interaction P = 0.01). For asthma, there was suggestive evidence of a gene-by-environment interaction for the CD14 variant rs2569190 (Interaction P = 0.16) but not for the TLR4 variants rs4986790 and rs4986791.

Conclusions: House dust endotoxin was associated with current atopic and nonatopic asthma in a U.S. farming population. The degree of the association with asthma depended on early-life farm exposures. Furthermore, endotoxin was associated with lower pulmonary function in patients with asthma.

Keywords: CD14; TLR4; atopy; pulmonary function; wheeze.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data*
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / genetics
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Endotoxins / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors / genetics
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4 / genetics
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Dust
  • Endotoxins
  • Lipopolysaccharide Receptors
  • TLR4 protein, human
  • Toll-Like Receptor 4