Background: The local production of TH2 -type cytokines is thought to orchestrate the ongoing eosinophilic inflammation and contribute to the pathophysiologic features of allergic asthma. Previous studies investigating cytokine expression in asthmatic individuals have used invasive fiberoptic bronchoscopy techniques. To date, there have been no reports of cytokine mRNA expression in induced sputum as a means of quantifying local inflammatory events.
Objectives: We examined whether IL-4, IL-5, and IFN-gamma mRNA expression could be detected in cells from induced sputum in subjects with mild asthma and normal control subjects. In addition, we compared the profile of inflammatory cells and cytokine mRNA in sputum and bronchial wash fluid.
Methods: Cells positive for IL-4, IL-5, and IFN-gamma mRNA were determined by using in situ hybridization on cytospun aliquots of sputum induced by successive inhalations of hypertonic saline. Inflammatory cells were quantified by using immunologic cell surface markers and immunocytochemistry.
Results: IL-4 and IL-5 mRNA were detected in the sputum of all asthmatic subjects, and the number of cells expressing these cytokines was significantly higher than that found in control subjects. Colocalization studies showed CD3-positive T cells were the major sources of IL-4 and IL-5 mRNA.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that induced sputum can be used to detect mRNA for TH2 -type cytokines in bronchial asthma and that the increase in IL-4 and IL-5 mRNA expression is similar to that seen with more invasive techniques. The qualitative differences in inflammatory cell numbers between sputum induction and bronchial wash are consistent with their sampling of different airway compartments.