Bronchoscopic evaluation of severe asthma. Persistent inflammation associated with high dose glucocorticoids

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1997 Sep;156(3 Pt 1):737-43. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.156.3.9610046.


The role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of severe asthma chronically treated with high doses of glucocorticoids is poorly understood. Despite this, treatment has been aimed at advancing anti-inflammatory and immunomodulator therapy. This study was designed to evaluate both the presence and type of airway inflammation in patients with severe asthma. A prospective bronchoscopic study evaluated 14 severe, high-dose oral glucocorticoid dependent asthmatics. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid was analyzed for cytology and inflammatory mediators. Endobronchial and transbronchial biopsies were performed in selected patients for morphometric evaluation of macrophage/monocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils and lymphocytes. These results were compared with lavage and endo- and transbronchial biopsy studies in normal controls and patients with moderate asthma. The concentration of eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid was highest in the moderate asthmatics not on glucocorticoids, with very little difference between normal controls and severe asthmatics (significant difference among the groups, p = 0.007). In contrast, the severe asthmatics demonstrated a twofold higher concentration of neutrophils in lavage than either the mild-moderate asthmatics, or the normal controls (p = 0.032 among the groups, p < 0.05 between the severe asthmatics and both controls). Similar results were obtained in the endobronchial and transbronchial biopsy specimens, which consistently showed significantly higher numbers of neutrophils in the severe asthmatics than in the control groups. The eicosanoid mediators, thromboxane and leukotriene B4, were also highest in the severe asthma group (differences among the groups, p = 0.019 and p = 0.023, respectively). These findings suggest that inflammation remains in severe symptomatic asthmatics despite treatment with high dose glucocorticoids which may be due to the severity of disease, glucocorticoid treatment, or other as yet undefined factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Biopsy
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / chemistry
  • Bronchoscopy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Glucocorticoids