Background: Patients with asthma show altered surface expression of the adhesion molecules CD11b and L-selectin on airway granulocytes compared with blood granulocytes.
Objective: To investigate whether this modulation is related to disease activity or due to transendothelial migration, we compared the CD11b and L-selectin expression on blood and induced sputum eosinophils and neutrophils between patients with asthma and normal subjects.
Methods: Eleven normal subjects (21-43 years), nine patients (21-34 years) with mild atopic asthma and 10 patients (20-47 years) with moderate to severe atopic asthma on regular treatment with inhaled steroids underwent sputum induction by inhalation of nebulized hypertonic saline (4.5%). CD11b and L-selectin expression on granulocytes from blood and DTT-homogenized sputum were analysed by flow cytometry. Eosinophils could be discriminated from neutrophils by using depolarized light scatter. Disease activity was assessed by baseline FEV1 and airway responsiveness to histamine (PC20).
Results: Sputum eosinophils showed higher expression of CD11b (P<0.001) and lower expression of L-selectin (P<0.001) compared with peripheral blood eosinophils. CD11b and L-selectin expression on eosinophils from blood or sputum did not differ between the three groups. Similar results were obtained for neutrophils. The PC20 in the patients with moderate-to-severe asthma was related to CD11b expression on blood (R=-0.92, P=0.001) and sputum eosinophils (R=0.75, P=0.02).
Conclusions: Flow cytometry of induced sputum granulocytes from asthmatic as well as normal subjects is feasible. We conclude that the modulated expression of CD11b and L-selectin on airway granulocytes is not specific for asthmatic airway inflammation, but is probably the result of tissue migration per sé. This implies that CD11b and L-selectin expression on granulocytes in induced sputum cannot be used as marker of disease activity.