The nature of bronchial mucosal inflammation and its physiologic and clinical significance in rhinovirus-induced asthma exacerbations is unclear. We investigated bronchial mucosal inflammatory response and its association with physiologic and clinical outcomes in an experimental model of rhinovirus-induced asthma exacerbations.
We used immunohistochemistry methods to detect phenotypes of inflammatory cells infiltrating the bronchial mucosa before and after experimental rhinovirus infection in 10 subjects with asthma and 15 normal subjects.
Compared with baseline, rhinovirus infection significantly increased the number of epithelial (P = .005) and subepithelial (P = .017) neutrophils in subjects with asthma only and subepithelial CD68+ macrophages in both subjects with asthma (P = .009) and normal subjects (P = .018) but more so in those with asthma (P = .021). Numbers of CD45+, CD68+, and CD20+ cells; neutrophils; and eosinophils at day 4 postinfection were positively associated with virus load (r = 0.50-0.72, P = .016-0.03). At acute infection in subjects with asthma, CD4+ cells correlated with chest symptom scores (r = 0.69, P = .029), the fall in the 10% fall in FEV1 (PC10) correlated with neutrophils (r = −0.89, P = .029), the PC10 correlated inversely with CD4+ (r = −0.67, P = .023) and CD8+ cells (r = −0.65, P = .03), the 20% fall in FEV1 was inversely associated with CD20+ cells (r = −0.65, P = .03), and higher epithelial CD8+ cell counts were significantly associated with a greater maximum fall in FEV1 (r = −0.72, P = .03), whereas higher subepithelial mast cell counts were significantly associated with a lower maximum percent fall in peak expiratory flow (r = 0.8, P = .024).
In subjects with asthma, rhinovirus infection induces bronchial mucosal neutrophilia and more severe monocyte/macrophage infiltration than in normal subjects. Airway neutrophils, eosinophils, and T and B lymphocytes during infection are related to virus load and physiologic and clinical severity, whereas mast cells are related to greater lung function.