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author:("fah, John V.")
1.  Measures of gene expression in sputum cells can identify TH2-high and TH2-low subtypes of asthma 
The 3-gene signature of periostin, chloride channel accessory 1 (CLCA1), and Serpin β2 (SERPINB2) in airway epithelial brushings is used to classify asthma into TH2-high and TH2-low endotypes. Little is known about the utility of gene profiling in sputum as a molecular phenotyping method.
We sought to determine whether gene profiling in sputum cells can identify TH2-high and TH2-low subtypes of asthma.
In induced sputum cell pellets from 37 asthmatic patients and 15 healthy control subjects, PCR was used to profile gene expression of the epithelial cell signature of IL-13 activation (periostin, CLCA1, and SERPINB2), TH2 genes (IL4, IL5, and IL13), and other genes associated with airway TH2 inflammation.
Gene expression levels of CLCA1 and periostin, but not SerpinB2, were significantly higher than normal in sputum cells from asthmatic subjects. Expression levels of IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13 were also significantly increased in asthmatic patients and highly correlated within individual subjects. By combining the expression levels of IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13 in a single quantitative metric (“TH2 gene mean”), 26 (70%) of the 37 asthmatic patients had TH2-high asthma, which was characterized by more severe measures of asthma and increased blood and sputum eosinophilia. TH2 gene mean values tended to be stable when initial values were very high or very low but fluctuated above or below the TH2-high cutoff when initial values were intermediate.
IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13 transcripts are easily detected in sputum cells from asthmatic patients, and their expression levels can be used to classify asthma into TH2-high and TH2-low endotypes.
PMCID: PMC3981552  PMID: 24075231
Asthma; phenotypes; TH2 cell; mast cells; eotaxin; inflammation; sputum; cytokines; eosinophils; IL-4; IL-5; IL-13; IL-17
2.  A Large Subgroup of Mild-to-Moderate Asthma Is Persistently Noneosinophilic 
Rationale: Airway eosinophilia is typical of asthma, and many controller treatments target eosinophilic disease. Asthma is clinically heterogeneous, however, and a subgroup of people with asthma do not have airway eosinophilia. The size of this subgroup is uncertain because prior studies have not examined repeated measures of sputum cytology to determine when people with asthma have intermittent versus persistent sputum eosinophila and when they are persistently noneosinophilic.
Objectives: To determine the prevalence and clinical characteristics of the noneosinophilic asthma phenotype.
Methods: We analyzed sputum cytology data from 995 subjects with asthma enrolled in clinical trials in the Asthma Clinical Research Network where they had undergone sputum induction and measures of sputum cytology, often repeatedly, and assessment of responses to standardized asthma treatments.
Measurements and Main Results: In cross-sectional analyses, sputum eosinophilia (≥2% eosinophils) was found in only 36% of subjects with asthma not taking an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) and 17% of ICS-treated subjects with asthma; an absence of eosinophilia was noted frequently, even in subjects with asthma whose disease was suboptimally controlled. In repeated measures analyses of people with asthma not taking an ICS, 22% of subjects had sputum eosinophilia on every occasion (persistent eosinophilia); 31% had eosinophilia on at least one occasion (intermittent eosinophilia); and 47% had no eosinophilia on every occasion (persistently noneosinophilic). Two weeks of combined antiinflammatory therapy caused significant improvements in airflow obstruction in eosinophilic asthma, but not in persistently noneosinophilic asthma. In contrast, bronchodilator responses to albuterol were similar in eosinophilic and noneosinophilic asthma.
Conclusions: Approximately half of patients with mild-to-moderate asthma have persistently noneosinophilic disease, a disease phenotype that responds poorly to currently available antiinflammatory therapy.
PMCID: PMC3326288  PMID: 22268133
asthma; eosinophil; noneosinophilic; obesity; neutrophil
3.  Accumulation of BDCA1+ Dendritic Cells in Interstitial Fibrotic Lung Diseases and Th2-High Asthma 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99084.
Dendritic cells (DCs) significantly contribute to the pathology of several mouse lung disease models. However, little is known of the contribution of DCs to human lung diseases. In this study, we examined infiltration with BDCA1+ DCs of human lungs in patients with interstitial lung diseases or asthma. Using flow cytometry, we found that these DCs increased by 5∼6 fold in the lungs of patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which are both characterized by extensive fibrosis in parenchyma. The same DC subset also significantly increased in the lung parenchyma of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, although the degree of increase was relatively modest. By employing immunofluorescence microscopy using FcεRI and MHCII as the specific markers for BDCA1+ DCs, we found that the numbers of BDCA1+ DCs also significantly increased in the airway epithelium of Th2 inflammation-associated asthma. These findings suggest a potential contribution of BDCA1+ DCs in human lung diseases associated with interstitial fibrosis or Th2 airway inflammation.
PMCID: PMC4051692  PMID: 24915147
4.  Airway Mucus Function and Dysfunction 
The New England journal of medicine  2010;363(23):2233-2247.
PMCID: PMC4048736  PMID: 21121836
5.  Hexaphenylbenzene as a Rigid Template for the Straightforward Syntheses of “Star-Shaped” Glycodendrimers 
The Journal of organic chemistry  2010;76(2):724-727.
Original glycodendrimers emanating from propargylated hexaphenylbenzene cores and containing up to 54 peripheral sugar ligands have been synthesized by Cu(I)-catalyzed [1,3]-dipolar cycloadditions using both convergent and divergent approaches.
PMCID: PMC3981551  PMID: 21190367
6.  Gene Expression Patterns of Th2 Inflammation and Intercellular Communication in Asthmatic Airways 
Asthma is canonically thought of as a disorder of excessive Th2-driven inflammation in the airway, although recent studies have described heterogeneity with respect to asthma pathophysiology. We have previously described distinct phenotypes of asthma based on the presence or absence of a three-gene “Th2 signature” in bronchial epithelium, which differ in terms of eosinophilic inflammation, mucin composition, subepithelial fibrosis, and corticosteroid responsiveness. In the present analysis, we sought to describe Th2 inflammation in human asthmatic airways quantitatively with respect to known mediators of inflammation and intercellular communication. Using whole-genome microarray and quantitative real-time PCR analysis of endobronchial biopsies from 27 mild-to-moderate asthmatics and 13 healthy controls with associated clinical and demographic data, we found that asthmatic Th2 inflammation is expressed over a variable continuum, correlating significantly with local and systemic measures of allergy and eosinophilia. We evaluated a composite metric describing 79 coexpressed genes associated with Th2 inflammation against the biological space comprising cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors, identifying distinctive patterns of inflammatory mediators as well as Wnt, TGF-β, and platelet-derived growth factor family members. This integrated description of the factors regulating inflammation, cell migration, and tissue remodeling in asthmatic airways has important consequences for the pathophysiological and clinical impacts of emerging asthma therapeutics targeting Th2 inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3981556  PMID: 21187436
7.  The H Antigen at Epithelial Surfaces Is Associated with Susceptibility to Asthma Exacerbation 
Rationale: Acute asthma exacerbations, precipitated by viral infections, are a significant cause of morbidity, but not all patients with asthma are equally susceptible.
Objectives: To explore susceptibility factors for asthma exacerbations, we considered a role for histoblood group antigens because they are implicated in mechanisms of gastrointestinal viral infection, specifically the O-secretor mucin glycan phenotype. We investigated if this phenotype is associated with susceptibility to asthma exacerbation.
Methods: We performed two consecutive case-control studies in subjects with asthma who were either prone or resistant to asthma exacerbations. Exacerbation-prone cases had frequent use of prednisone for an asthma exacerbation and frequent asthma-related healthcare utilization, whereas exacerbation-resistant control subjects had rarely reported asthma exacerbations. The frequency of different mucin glycan phenotypes, defined by the presence or absence of H (O), A, B, or AB antigens, was compared in cases and control subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: In an initial study consisting of 49 subjects with asthma (23 cases and 26 control subjects), we found that having the O-secretor phenotype was associated with a 5.8-fold increase in the odds of being a case (95% confidence interval, 1.7–21.0; P = 0.006). In a replication study consisting of 204 subjects with asthma (101 cases and 103 control subjects), we found that having the O-secretor phenotype was associated with a 2.3-fold increased odds of being a case (95% confidence interval, 1.2–4.4; P = 0.02).
Conclusions: The O-secretor mucin glycan phenotype is associated with susceptibility to asthma exacerbation.
Clinical trial registered at (NCT00201266).
PMCID: PMC3040389  PMID: 20732988
asthma; mucins; fucosylation; H antigen; blood groups
8.  Negative methacholine challenge tests in subjects who report physician-diagnosed asthma 
The frequency of adults reporting a history of asthma is rising. However, it is unclear whether this increased prevalence accurately demonstrates a rising trend or if it reflects an overall increase in asthma awareness.
To determine the frequency of negative methacholine bronchoprovocation tests in adults who report physician-diagnosed asthma and to explore the clinical characteristics of subjects with negative tests.
Data from methacholine challenge, spirometry, and physician assessment were analysed from 304 adults who reported physician-diagnosed asthma and responded to community based advertising for asthma research studies. The clinical characteristics of methacholine-positive and -negative subjects were compared and a predictive model was tested to identify those characteristics associated with a negative test.
Of the 304 subjects tested, 83 (27%) had a negative methacholine test. A negative test was positively associated with adult-onset of symptoms (p<0.001), normal FEV1 (p<0.001), and having no history of exacerbation requiring oral steroids (p=0.03). Over half (60%) of those with a negative test reported weekly asthma-like symptoms (cough, dyspnea, chest tightness or wheeze), while 39% reported emergency department visits for asthma-like symptoms.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance
A sizeable percentage of subjects who report physician diagnosed asthma have a negative methacholine challenge test. These subjects are characterized by diagnosis of asthma as an adult and by normal or near normal spirometry. Caution should be exercised in the assessment and diagnosis of adults presenting with asthma-like symptoms, because they may not have asthma. Further diagnostic studies, including bronchoprovocation testing, are warranted in this patient group, especially if their spirometry is normal. ( - NCT00201266).
PMCID: PMC3059141  PMID: 21105916
Asthma; Diagnosis and Assessment; Brochoprovocation Testing
9.  P2X7-Regulated Protection from Exacerbations and Loss of Control Is Independent of Asthma Maintenance Therapy 
Rationale: The function of the P2X7 nucleotide receptor protects against exacerbation in people with mild-intermittent asthma during viral illnesses, but the impact of disease severity and maintenance therapy has not been studied.
Objectives: To evaluate the association between P2X7, asthma exacerbations, and incomplete symptom control in a more diverse population.
Methods: A matched P2RX7 genetic case-control was performed with samples from Asthma Clinical Research Network trial participants enrolled before July 2006, and P2X7 pore activity was determined in whole blood samples as an ancillary study to two trials completed subsequently.
Measurements and Main Results: A total of 187 exacerbations were studied in 742 subjects, and the change in asthma symptom burden was studied in an additional 110 subjects during a trial of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) dose optimization. African American carriers of the minor G allele of the rs2230911 loss-of-function single nucleotide polymorphism were more likely to have a history of prednisone use in the previous 12 months, with adjustment for ICS and long-acting β2-agonists use (odds ratio, 2.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.2–6.2; P = 0.018). Despite medium-dose ICS, attenuated pore function predicted earlier exacerbations in incompletely controlled patients with moderate asthma (hazard ratio, 3.2; confidence interval, 1.1–9.3; P = 0.033). After establishing control with low-dose ICS in patients with mild asthma, those with attenuated pore function had more asthma symptoms, rescue albuterol use, and FEV1 reversal (P < 0.001, 0.03, and 0.03, respectively) during the ICS adjustment phase.
Conclusions: P2X7 pore function protects against exacerbations of asthma and loss of control, independent of baseline severity and the maintenance therapy.
PMCID: PMC3570642  PMID: 23144325
asthma; P2X7; exacerbation; Asthma Clinical Research Network; corticosteroids
10.  Accumulation of intraepithelial mast cells with a unique protease phenotype in TH2-high asthma 
Previously, we found that mast cell tryptases and carboxypeptidase A3 (CPA3) are differentially expressed in the airway epithelium in asthmatic subjects. We also found that asthmatic subjects can be divided into 2 subgroups (“TH2 high” and “TH2 low” asthma) based on epithelial cell gene signatures for the activity of TH2 cytokines.
We sought to characterize intraepithelial mast cells (IEMCs) in asthma.
We performed gene expression profiling in epithelial brushings and stereology-based quantification of mast cell numbers in endobronchial biopsy specimens from healthy control and asthmatic subjects before and after treatment with inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs). We also performed gene expression and protein quantification studies in cultured airway epithelial cells and mast cells.
By means of unsupervised clustering, mast cell gene expression in the airway epithelium related closely to the expression of IL-13 signature genes. The levels of expression of mast cell genes correlate positively with lung function improvements with ICSs. IEMC density was 2-fold higher than normal in subjects with TH2-high asthma compared with that seen in subjects with TH2-low asthma or healthy control subjects (P = .015 for both comparisons), and these cells were characterized by expression of tryptases and CPA3 but not chymase. IL-13 induced expression of stem cell factor in cultured airway epithelial cells, and mast cells exposed to conditioned media from IL-13–activated epithelial cells showed downregulation of chymase but no change in tryptase or CPA3 expression.
IEMC numbers are increased in subjects with TH2-high asthma, have an unusual protease phenotype (tryptase and CPA3 high and chymase low), and predict responsiveness to ICSs. IL-13–stimulated production of stem cell factor by epithelial cells potentially explains mast cell accumulation in TH2-high asthmatic epithelium.
PMCID: PMC2918406  PMID: 20451039
Asthma; mast cells; tryptase; chymase; carboxypeptidase A3; stem cell factor
11.  A Soluble Fucose-Specific Lectin from Aspergillus fumigatus Conidia - Structure, Specificity and Possible Role in Fungal Pathogenicity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83077.
Aspergillus fumigatus is an important allergen and opportunistic pathogen. Similarly to many other pathogens, it is able to produce lectins that may be involved in the host-pathogen interaction. We focused on the lectin AFL, which was prepared in recombinant form and characterized. Its binding properties were studied using hemagglutination and glycan array analysis. We determined the specificity of the lectin towards l-fucose and fucosylated oligosaccharides, including α1-6 linked core-fucose, which is an important marker for cancerogenesis. Other biologically relevant saccharides such as sialic acid, d-mannose or d-galactose were not bound. Blood group epitopes of the ABH and Lewis systems were recognized, LeY being the preferred ligand among others. To provide a correlation between the observed functional characteristics and structural basis, AFL was crystallized in a complex with methyl-α,l-selenofucoside and its structure was solved using the SAD method. Six binding sites, each with different compositions, were identified per monomer and significant differences from the homologous AAL lectin were found. Structure-derived peptides were utilized to prepare anti-AFL polyclonal antibodies, which suggested the presence of AFL on the Aspergillus’ conidia, confirming its expression in vivo. Stimulation of human bronchial cells by AFL led to IL-8 production in a dose-dependent manner. AFL thus probably contributes to the inflammatory response observed upon the exposure of a patient to A. fumigatus. The combination of affinity to human epithelial epitopes, production by conidia and pro-inflammatory activity is remarkable and shows that AFL might be an important virulence factor involved in an early stage of A. fumigatus infection.
PMCID: PMC3858362  PMID: 24340081
12.  Comparison of Physician-, Biomarker-, and Symptom-Based Strategies for Adjustment of Inhaled Corticosteroid Therapy in Adults With Asthma 
No consensus exists for adjusting inhaled corticosteroid therapy in patients with asthma. Approaches include adjustment at outpatient visits guided by physician assessment of asthma control (symptoms, rescue therapy, pulmonary function), based on exhaled nitric oxide, or on a day-to-day basis guided by symptoms.
To determine if adjustment of inhaled corticosteroid therapy based on exhaled nitric oxide or day-to-day symptoms is superior to guideline-informed, physician assessment–based adjustment in preventing treatment failure in adults with mild to moderate asthma.
Design, Setting, and Participants
A randomized, parallel, 3-group, placebo-controlled, multiply-blinded trial of 342 adults with mild to moderate asthma controlled by low-dose inhaled corticosteroid therapy (n=114 assigned to physician assessment–based adjustment [101 completed], n=115 to biomarker-based [exhaled nitric oxide] adjustment [92 completed], and n=113 to symptom-based adjustment [97 completed]), the Best Adjustment Strategy for Asthma in the Long Term (BASALT) trial was conducted by the Asthma Clinical Research Network at 10 academic medical centers in the United States for 9 months between June 2007 and July 2010.
For physician assessment–based adjustment and biomarker-based (exhaled nitric oxide) adjustment, the dose of inhaled corticosteroids was adjusted every 6 weeks; for symptom-based adjustment, inhaled corticosteroids were taken with each albuterol rescue use.
Main Outcome Measure
The primary outcome was time to treatment failure.
There were no significant differences in time to treatment failure. The 9-month Kaplan-Meier failure rates were 22% (97.5% CI, 14%-33%; 24 events) for physician assessment–based adjustment, 20% (97.5% CI, 13%-30%; 21 events) for biomarker-based adjustment, and 15% (97.5% CI, 9%-25%; 16 events) for symptom-based adjustment. The hazard ratio for physician assessment–based adjustment vs biomarker-based adjustment was 1.2 (97.5% CI, 0.6-2.3). The hazard ratio for physician assessment–based adjustment vs symptom-based adjustment was 1.6 (97.5% CI, 0.8-3.3).
Among adults with mild to moderate persistent asthma controlled with low-dose inhaled corticosteroid therapy, the use of either biomarker-based or symptom-based adjustment of inhaled corticosteroids was not superior to physician assessment–based adjustment of inhaled corticosteroids in time to treatment failure.
Trial Registration Identifier: NCT00495157
PMCID: PMC3697088  PMID: 22968888
13.  Periostin is a systemic biomarker of eosinophilic airway inflammation in asthmatic patients 
Eosinophilic airway inflammation is heterogeneous in asthmatic patients. We recently described a distinct subtype of asthma defined by the expression of genes inducible by TH2 cytokines in bronchial epithelium. This gene signature, which includes periostin, is present in approximately half of asthmatic patients and correlates with eosinophilic airway inflammation. However, identification of this subtype depends on invasive airway sampling, and hence noninvasive biomarkers of this phenotype are desirable.
We sought to identify systemic biomarkers of eosinophilic airway inflammation in asthmatic patients.
We measured fraction of exhaled nitric oxide (Feno), peripheral blood eosinophil, periostin, YKL-40, and IgE levels and compared these biomarkers with airway eosinophilia in asthmatic patients.
We collected sputum, performed bronchoscopy, and matched peripheral blood samples from 67 asthmatic patients who remained symptomatic despite maximal inhaled corticosteroid treatment (mean FEV1, 60% of predicted value; mean Asthma Control Questionnaire [ACQ] score, 2.7). Serum periostin levels are significantly increased in asthmatic patients with evidence of eosinophilic airway inflammation relative to those with minimal eosinophilic airway inflammation. A logistic regression model, including sex, age, body mass index, IgE levels, blood eosinophil numbers, Feno levels, and serum periostin levels, in 59 patients with severe asthma showed that, of these indices, the serum periostin level was the single best predictor of airway eosinophilia (P = .007).
Periostin is a systemic biomarker of airway eosinophilia in asthmatic patients and has potential utility in patient selection for emerging asthma therapeutics targeting TH2 inflammation.
PMCID: PMC3626285  PMID: 22857879
Asthma; biomarker; sputum; bronchoscopy; eosinophil; TH2; IL-13; periostin; IgE; Feno
14.  Ex Vivo Sputum Analysis Reveals Impairment of Protease-dependent Mucus Degradation by Plasma Proteins in Acute Asthma 
Rationale: Airway mucus plugs, composed of mucin glycoproteins mixed with plasma proteins, are an important cause of airway obstruction in acute severe asthma, and they are poorly treated with current therapies.
Objectives: To investigate mechanisms of airway mucus clearance in health and in acute severe asthma.
Methods: We collected airway mucus from patients with asthma and nonasthmatic control subjects, using sputum induction or tracheal aspiration. We used rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling and immunoblotting to characterize the physical properties of the mucus gel, the size profiles of mucins, and the degradation products of albumin in airway mucus.
Measurements and Main Results: Repeated ex vivo measures of size and entanglement of mucin polymers in airway mucus from nonasthmatic control subjects showed that the mucus gel is normally degraded by proteases and that albumin inhibits this degradation. In airway mucus collected from patients with asthma at various time points during acute asthma exacerbation, protease-driven mucus degradation was inhibited at the height of exacerbation but was restored during recovery. In immunoblots of human serum albumin digested by neutrophil elastase and in immunoblots of airway mucus, we found that albumin was a substrate of neutrophil elastase and that products of albumin degradation were abundant in airway mucus during acute asthma exacerbation.
Conclusions: Rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling of airway mucins in health and acute asthma reveal that mucin degradation is inhibited in acute asthma, and that an excess of plasma proteins present in acute asthma inhibits the degradation of mucins in a protease-dependent manner. These findings identify a novel mechanism whereby plasma exudation may impair airway mucus clearance.
PMCID: PMC2724713  PMID: 19423716
airway mucus; rheology; neutrophil elastase; plasma; asthma exacerbation
15.  A qPCR-based metric of Th2 airway inflammation in asthma 
Using microarray profiling of airway epithelial cells, we previously identified a Th2-high molecular phenotype of asthma based on expression of periostin, CLCA1 and serpinB2 and characterized by specific inflammatory, remodeling, and treatment response features. The goal of the current study was to develop a qPCR-based assay of Th2 inflammation to overcome the limitations of microarray-based methods.
Airway epithelial brushings were obtained by bronchoscopy from two clinical studies comprising 44 healthy controls and 62 subjects with asthma, 39 of whom were studied before and after a standardized 8 week course of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). The qPCR-based expression of periostin, CLCA1 and serpinB2 were combined into a single metric.
In asthma, the three-gene-mean of periostin, CLCA1 and serpinB2 correlated with FeNO (r = 0.75, p = 0.0002), blood eosinophils (r = 0.58, p = 0.003) and PC20 methacholine (r = -0.65, p = 0.0006), but not total serum IgE (r = 0.33, p = 0.1). Higher baseline three-gene-mean correlated with greater improvement in FEV1 with ICS at 2, 4 and 8 weeks (all p < 0.05). By ROC analysis, the area under the curve (AUC) of the three-gene-mean for FEV1 improvement with ICS at 4 and 8 weeks was 0.94 and 0.87, respectively, which are higher than the AUCs of FeNO, blood eosinophils, IgE or PC20. Th2 airway inflammation as measured by this three-gene-mean also had predictive capacity for an improvement in symptoms.
The three-gene-mean of periostin, CLCA1 and serpinB2 in airway epithelial brushings identifies Th2-high and low populations, is correlated with other Th2 biomarkers, and performs well for prediction of FEV1 improvement with ICS. The three-gene-mean provides a measurement of Th2 airway inflammation that is clinically relevant and that can serve as a valuable tool to evaluate non-invasive biomarkers to predict treatment responses to existing and emerging asthma therapies.
PMCID: PMC3724712  PMID: 23866775
Asthma; Inflammation; Endophenotypes (all MeSH terms); Biomarkers; Th2
16.  Acute Exacerbations of Asthma: Epidemiology, Biology and the Exacerbation-Prone Phenotype 
Asthma is a highly prevalent chronic respiratory disease affecting 300 million people worldwide. A significant fraction of the cost and morbidity of asthma derives from acute care for asthma exacerbations. In the United States alone, there are approximately 15.0 million outpatient visits, 2 million emergency room visits, and 500,000 hospitalizations each year for management of acute asthma. Common respiratory viruses, especially rhinoviruses, cause the majority of exacerbations in children and adults. Infection of airway epithelial cells with rhinovirus causes the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, as well as recruitment of inflammatory cells, particularly neutrophils, lymphocytes, and eosinophils. The host response to viral infection is likely to influence susceptibility to asthma exacerbation.
Having had at least one exacerbation is an important risk factor for recurrent exacerbations suggesting an “exacerbation-prone” subset of asthmatics. Factors underlying for the “exacerbation-prone” phenotype are incompletely understood but include extrinsic factors: cigarette smoking, medication noncompliance, psychosocial factors, and co-morbidities such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, rhinosinusitis, obesity, and intolerance to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications; as well as intrinsic factors such as deficient epithelial cell production of the anti-viral type I interferons (IFN-α and IFN-β). A better understanding of the biologic mechanisms of host susceptibility to recurrent exacerbations will be important for developing more effective preventions and treatments aimed at reducing the significant cost and morbidity associated with this important global health problem.
PMCID: PMC2730743  PMID: 19187331
17.  Chitotriosidase is the primary active chitinase in the human lung and is modulated by genotype and disease 
Chitinolytic enzymes play important roles in the pathophysiology of allergic airway responses in mouse models of asthma. Acidic mammalian chitinase (AMCase) and chitotriosidase (CHIT1) have chitinolytic activity, but relatively little is known about their expression in human asthma.
To determine the expression and activity of AMCase and CHIT1 in health, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (disease control), taking account of the null 24bp duplication in the CHIT1 gene.
We measured chitinase activity in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) at multiple pH’s using a synthetic chitin substrate. We also determined AMCase and CHIT1 gene expression in epithelial brushings and BAL macrophages by real time RT-PCR. Paired DNA samples were genotyped for the CHIT1 duplication.
In all subgroups, the pH profile of chitinase activity in BAL matched that of chitotriosidase, not AMCase, and chitinase activity was absent in subjects genetically deficient in active chitotriosidase. Although AMCase protein was detectable in lavage, AMCase transcripts in macrophages were consistent with an isoform lacking enzymatic activity. Median chitinase activity in BAL tended to be lower than normal in asthma, but was increased 7-fold in COPD, where CHIT1 gene expression in macrophages was increased.
Chitinase activity in the lung is the result of CHIT1 activity. Although AMCase protein is detectable in the lung, our data indicates that it is inactive. Chitinase activity is not increased in asthma and in fact tends to be decreased. The high levels of chitinase activity in COPD result from upregulation of CHIT1 gene expression, especially in macrophages.
PMCID: PMC2666777  PMID: 18845328
AMCase; CHIT1; chitinase; asthma; smokers; bronchoalveolar lavage
18.  Characterizing Mucous Cell Remodeling in Cystic Fibrosis 
Rationale: Relatively few studies have characterized mucous cells or mucins in detail in cystic fibrosis (CF), and the relationship between mucous cell abnormalities and neutrophilic inflammation is uncertain.
Objectives: To characterize mucous cell phenotypes and mucin profiles in CF and to determine if neutrophils accumulate around goblet cells in the epithelium and gland acini in the submucosa.
Methods: Bronchial biopsies were collected from 7 subjects with CF and 15 control subjects, and the morphology of mucous cells was measured. Immunostains for gel-forming mucins and neutrophil elastase were quantified.
Measurements and Main Results: Goblet cell size was increased in CF (p = 0.004), but the number of goblet cells was normal. The volume of submucosal glands was fourfold higher than normal (p = 0.031), but the proportion of mucous and serous cells in CF glands was normal. The patterns of expression of gel-forming mucins in epithelial and submucosal compartments in CF were similar to normal. Although neutrophil elastase immunostaining was intense in the epithelium in CF, neutrophils were largely absent around gland acini in the submucosa.
Conclusion: The most prominent pathologic feature in the CF airway is an increase in submucosal gland volume, but serous cell transdifferentiation to mucous cells does not occur, nor are gland acini inflamed with neutrophils. The mechanism for increased submucosal gland volume in CF deserves further study.
PMCID: PMC2648101  PMID: 16917116
cystic fibrosis; MUC5AC; MUC5B; neutrophil elastase; submucosal glands
19.  An integrated nano-scale approach to profile miRNAs in limited clinical samples 
Profiling miRNA expression in cells that directly contribute to human disease pathogenesis is likely to aid the discovery of novel drug targets and biomarkers. However, tissue heterogeneity and the limited amount of human diseased tissue available for research purposes present fundamental difficulties that often constrain the scope and potential of such studies. We established a flow cytometry-based method for isolating pure populations of pathogenic T cells from bronchial biopsy samples of asthma patients, and optimized a high-throughput nano-scale qRT-PCR method capable of accurately measuring 96 miRNAs in as little as 100 cells. Comparison of circulating and airway T cells from healthy and asthmatic subjects revealed asthma-associated and tissue-specific miRNA expression patterns. These results establish the feasibility and utility of investigating miRNA expression in small populations of cells involved in asthma pathogenesis, and set a precedent for application of our nano-scale approach in other human diseases. The microarray data from this study (Figure 7) has been submitted to the NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO; under accession no. GSE31030.
PMCID: PMC3538381  PMID: 23304658
microRNA (miRNA); asthma; helper T cell; microfluidic; qPCR arrays
20.  An integrated nano-scale approach to profile miRNAs in limited clinical samples 
Profiling miRNA expression in cells that directly contribute to human disease pathogenesis is likely to aid the discovery of novel drug targets and biomarkers. However, tissue heterogeneity and the limited amount of human diseased tissue available for research purposes present fundamental difficulties that often constrain the scope and potential of such studies. We established a flow cytometry-based method for isolating pure populations of pathogenic T cells from bronchial biopsy samples of asthma patients, and optimized a high-throughput nano-scale qRT-PCR method capable of accurately measuring 96 miRNAs in as little as 100 cells. Comparison of circulating and airway T cells from healthy and asthmatic subjects revealed asthma-associated and tissue-specific miRNA expression patterns. These results establish the feasibility and utility of investigating miRNA expression in small populations of cells involved in asthma pathogenesis, and set a precedent for application of our nano-scale approach in other human diseases. The microarray data from this study (Figure 7) has been submitted to the NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO; under accession no. GSE31030.
PMCID: PMC3538381  PMID: 23304658
microRNA (miRNA); asthma; helper T cell; microfluidic; qPCR arrays
21.  Asthma outcomes: Biomarkers 
Measurement of biomarkers has been incorporated within clinical research studies of asthma to characterize the population and associate the disease with environmental and therapeutic effects.
National Institutes of Health institutes and federal agencies convened an expert group to propose which biomarkers should be assessed as standardized asthma outcomes in future clinical research studies.
We conducted a comprehensive search of the literature to identify studies that developed and/or tested asthma biomarkers. We identified biomarkers relevant to the underlying disease process progression and response to treatment. We classified the biomarkers as either core (required in future studies), supplemental (used according to study aims and standardized), or emerging (requiring validation and standardization). This work was discussed at an National Institutes of Health–organized workshop convened in March 2010 and finalized in September 2011.
Ten measures were identified; only 1, multiallergen screening to define atopy, is recommended as a core asthma outcome. Complete blood counts to measure total eosinophils, fractional exhaled nitric oxide (Feno), sputum eosinophils, urinary leukotrienes, and total and allergen-specific IgE are recommended as supplemental measures. Measurement of sputum polymorphonuclear leukocytes and other analytes, cortisol measures, airway imaging, breath markers, and system-wide studies (eg, genomics, proteomics) are considered as emerging outcome measures.
The working group participants propose the use of multiallergen screening in all asthma clinical trials to characterize study populations with respect to atopic status. Blood, sputum, and urine specimens should be stored in biobanks, and standard procedures should be developed to harmonize sample collection for clinical trial biorepositories.
PMCID: PMC3390196  PMID: 22386512
Multiallergen screen; fractional exhaled nitric oxide; sputum eosinophils; total eosinophils; IgE; urinary leukotriene E4
22.  Network analysis identifies a putative role for the PPAR and type 1 interferon pathways in glucocorticoid actions in asthmatics 
BMC Medical Genomics  2012;5:27.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway disease influenced by genetic and environmental factors that affects ~300 million people worldwide, leading to ~250,000 deaths annually. Glucocorticoids (GCs) are well-known therapeutics that are used extensively to suppress airway inflammation in asthmatics. The airway epithelium plays an important role in the initiation and modulation of the inflammatory response. While the role of GCs in disease management is well understood, few studies have examined the holistic effects on the airway epithelium.
Gene expression data were used to generate a co-transcriptional network, which was interrogated to identify modules of functionally related genes. In parallel, expression data were mapped to the human protein-protein interaction (PPI) network in order to identify modules with differentially expressed genes. A common pathways approach was applied to highlight genes and pathways functionally relevant and significantly altered following GC treatment.
Co-transcriptional network analysis identified pathways involved in inflammatory processes in the epithelium of asthmatics, including the Toll-like receptor (TLR) and PPAR signaling pathways. Analysis of the PPI network identified RXRA, PPARGC1A, STAT1 and IRF9, among others genes, as differentially expressed. Common pathways analysis highlighted TLR and PPAR signaling pathways, providing a link between general inflammatory processes and the actions of GCs. Promoter analysis identified genes regulated by the glucocorticoid receptor (GCR) and PPAR pathways as well as highlighted the interferon pathway as a target of GCs.
Network analyses identified known genes and pathways associated with inflammatory processes in the airway epithelium of asthmatics. This workflow illustrated a hypothesis generating experimental design that integrated multiple analysis methods to produce a weight-of-evidence based approach upon which future focused studies can be designed. In this case, results suggested a mechanism whereby GCs repress TLR-mediated interferon production via upregulation of the PPAR signaling pathway. These results highlight the role of interferons in asthma and their potential as targets of future therapeutic efforts.
PMCID: PMC3408345  PMID: 22713245
Asthma; Inflammation; Glucocorticoids; Fluticasone propionate; Flovent; Network analysis; PPAR pathway; Toll-like receptor pathway; Interferon pathway
23.  Cluster Analysis of Obesity and Asthma Phenotypes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36631.
Asthma is a heterogeneous disease with variability among patients in characteristics such as lung function, symptoms and control, body weight, markers of inflammation, and responsiveness to glucocorticoids (GC). Cluster analysis of well-characterized cohorts can advance understanding of disease subgroups in asthma and point to unsuspected disease mechanisms. We utilized an hypothesis-free cluster analytical approach to define the contribution of obesity and related variables to asthma phenotype.
Methodology and Principal Findings
In a cohort of clinical trial participants (n = 250), minimum-variance hierarchical clustering was used to identify clinical and inflammatory biomarkers important in determining disease cluster membership in mild and moderate persistent asthmatics. In a subset of participants, GC sensitivity was assessed via expression of GC receptor alpha (GCRα) and induction of MAP kinase phosphatase-1 (MKP-1) expression by dexamethasone. Four asthma clusters were identified, with body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) and severity of asthma symptoms (AEQ score) the most significant determinants of cluster membership (F = 57.1, p<0.0001 and F = 44.8, p<0.0001, respectively). Two clusters were composed of predominantly obese individuals; these two obese asthma clusters differed from one another with regard to age of asthma onset, measures of asthma symptoms (AEQ) and control (ACQ), exhaled nitric oxide concentration (FENO) and airway hyperresponsiveness (methacholine PC20) but were similar with regard to measures of lung function (FEV1 (%) and FEV1/FVC), airway eosinophilia, IgE, leptin, adiponectin and C-reactive protein (hsCRP). Members of obese clusters demonstrated evidence of reduced expression of GCRα, a finding which was correlated with a reduced induction of MKP-1 expression by dexamethasone
Conclusions and Significance
Obesity is an important determinant of asthma phenotype in adults. There is heterogeneity in expression of clinical and inflammatory biomarkers of asthma across obese individuals. Reduced expression of the dominant functional isoform of the GCR may mediate GC insensitivity in obese asthmatics.
PMCID: PMC3350517  PMID: 22606276
24.  A trial of clarithromycin for the treatment of suboptimally controlled asthma 
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) studies have demonstrated evidence of M. pneumoniae and C. pneumoniae in the lower airways of patients with asthma.
To test the hypothesis that clarithromycin would improve asthma control in individuals with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma that was not well-controlled despite treatment with low-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICS).
Adults with an Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) score ≥1.5 after a 4 week period of treatment with fluticasone propionate were entered into a PCR-stratified randomized trial to evaluate the effect of 16 weeks of either clarithromycin or placebo, added to fluticasone, on asthma control in individuals with or without lower airway PCR evidence of M. pneumoniae or C. pneumoniae.
92 participants were randomized. Twelve (13%) subjects demonstrated PCR evidence of M. pneumoniae or C. pneumoniae in endobronchial biopsies; 80 were PCR negative for both organisms. In PCR positive participants, clarithromycin yielded a 0.4±0.4 unit improvement in the ACQ score, with a 0.1±0.3 unit improvement in those allocated to placebo. This between-group difference of 0.3±0.5 (p=0.6) was neither clinically nor statistically significant. In PCR negative participants, a non-significant between-group difference of 0.2±0.2 units (p=0.3) was observed. Clarithromycin did not improve lung function or airway inflammation but did improve airway hyperresponsiveness, increasing the methacholine PC20 by 1.2±0.5 doubling doses (p=0.02) in the study population.
Adding clarithromycin to fluticasone in adults with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma that was suboptimally-controlled by low-dose ICS alone did not further improve asthma control. Although there was an improvement in airway hyperresponsiveness with clarithromycin, this benefit was not accompanied by improvements in other secondary outcomes.
PMCID: PMC2950827  PMID: 20920764
asthma; infection; antibiotic
25.  The relevance of tick bites to the production of IgE antibodies to the mammalian oligosaccharide galactose-α-1,3-galactose 
In 2009, we reported a novel form of delayed anaphylaxis to red meat, which is related to serum IgE antibodies to the oligosaccharide galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Most of these patients had tolerated meat for many years previously. The implication is that some exposure in adult life had stimulated the production of these IgE antibodies.
To investigate possible causes of this IgE antibody response, focusing on evidence related to tick bites, which are common in the region where these reactions occur.
Serum assays were carried out using biotinylated proteins and extracts bound to a streptavidin ImmunoCAP.
Prospective studies on IgE antibodies in three subjects following tick bites showed an increase in IgE to alpha-gal of twenty-fold or greater. Other evidence included i) a strong correlation between histories of tick bites and IgE to alpha-gal (χ2=26.8, p<0.001), ii) evidence that these IgE antibodies are common in areas where the tick Amblyomma americanum is common, and iii) a significant correlation between IgE antibodies to alpha-gal and IgE antibodies to proteins derived from A. americanum (rs=0.75, p<0.001).
The results presented here provide evidence that tick bites are a cause, or possibly the only cause, of IgE specific for alpha-gal in this area of the United States. Both the number of subjects becoming sensitized and the titer of IgE antibodies to alpha-gal are striking. Here we report the first example of a response to an ectoparasite giving rise to an important form of food allergy.
PMCID: PMC3085643  PMID: 21453959
ticks; anaphylaxis; oligosaccharide; alpha-gal; IgE antibody to CCD

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