Sputum analysis, bronchial hyperresponsiveness, and airway function in asthma: results of a factor analysis

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1999 Feb;103(2 Pt 1):232-7. doi: 10.1016/s0091-6749(99)70496-3.


Background: Recent studies have shown weak associations among FEV1, bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), sputum eosinophils, and sputum eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), suggesting that they are nonoverlapping quantities. The statistical method of factor analysis enables reduction of many parameters that characterize the disease to a few independent factors, with each factor grouping associated parameters.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to demonstrate, by using factor analysis, that reversible airway obstruction, BHR, and eosinophilic inflammation of the bronchial tree, as assessed by cytologic and biochemical analysis of sputum, may be considered separate dimensions that characterize chronic bronchial asthma.

Methods: Ninety-nine clinically stable patients with a previous diagnosis of asthma underwent spirometry, sputum induction, and histamine inhalation tests.

Results: Most patients were nonobstructed (FEV1, 91% +/- 20%); a low level of bronchial reversibility (FEV1 increase after beta2 -agonist, 7.8% +/- 9.2%) and BHR (histamine PC20 FEV1 geometric mean, 0.98 mg/mL) were found. Sputum eosinophil differential count (12.4% +/- 17.7%) and sputum ECP (1305 +/- 3072 microg/mL) were in the normal range of our laboratory in 38 and 22 patients, respectively. Factor analysis selected 3 different factors, explaining 74.8% of variability. Measurements of airway function and age loaded on factor I, PC20 FEV1 and beta2 -response loaded on factor II, and sputum ECP and eosinophils loaded on factor III. Additional post hoc factor analyses provided similar results when the sample was divided into 2 subgroups by randomization, presence of airway obstruction, degree of BHR, percentage of sputum eosinophils, or concentration of sputum ECP.

Conclusions: We conclude that airway function, baseline BHR, and airway inflammation may be considered separate dimensions in the description of chronic asthma. Such evidence supports the utility of routine measurement of all these dimensions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Blood Proteins / analysis
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / pathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / physiopathology*
  • Bronchitis / pathology
  • Bronchitis / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Eosinophils / pathology
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ribonucleases*
  • Sputum / chemistry*
  • Sputum / cytology


  • Blood Proteins
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Ribonucleases