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1.  Characterization of the severe asthma phenotype by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Severe Asthma Research Program 
Severe asthma causes the majority of asthma morbidity. Understanding mechanisms that contribute to the development of severe disease is important.
The goal of the Severe Asthma Research Program is to identify and characterize subjects with severe asthma to understand pathophysiologic mechanisms in severe asthma.
We performed a comprehensive phenotypic characterization (questionnaires, atopy and pulmonary function testing, phlebotomy, exhaled nitric oxide) in subjects with severe and not severe asthma.
A total of 438 subjects with asthma were studied (204 severe, 70 moderate, 164 mild). Severe subjects with asthma were older with longer disease duration (P < .0001), more daily symptoms, intense urgent health care utilization, sinusitis, and pneumonia (P ≤ .0001). Lung function was lower in severe asthma with marked bronchodilator reversibility (P < .001). The severe group had less atopy by skin tests (P = .0007), but blood eosinophils, IgE, and exhaled nitric oxide levels did not differentiate disease severity. A reduced FEV1, history of pneumonia, and fewer positive skin tests were risk factors for severe disease. Early disease onset (age < 12 years) in severe asthma was associated with longer disease duration (P < .0001) and more urgent health care, especially intensive care (P = .002). Later disease onset (age ≥ 12 years) was associated with lower lung function and sinopulmonary infections (P ≤ .02).
Severe asthma is characterized by abnormal lung function that is responsive to bronchodilators, a history of sinopulmonary infections, persistent symptoms, and increased health care utilization.
Clinical implications
Lung function abnormalities in severe asthma are reversible in most patients, and pneumonia is a risk factor for the development of severe disease.
PMCID: PMC2837934  PMID: 17291857
Severe asthma; definition; bronchodilator response; pathophysiology; phenotype; pneumonia
2.  IL6R Variation Asp358Ala Is a Potential Modifier of Lung Function in Asthma 
The IL6R SNP rs4129267 has recently been identified as an asthma susceptibility locus in subjects of European ancestry but has not been characterized with respect to asthma severity. The SNP rs4129267 is in linkage disequilibrium (r2=1) with the IL6R coding SNP rs2228145 (Asp358Ala). This IL6R coding change increases IL6 receptor shedding and promotes IL6 transsignaling.
To evaluate the IL6R SNP rs2228145 with respect to asthma severity phenotypes.
The IL6R SNP rs2228145 was evaluated in subjects of European ancestry with asthma from the Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP). Lung function associations were replicated in the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Asthma (CSGA) cohort. Serum soluble IL6 receptor (sIL6R) levels were measured in subjects from SARP. Immunohistochemistry was used to qualitatively evaluate IL6R protein expression in BAL cells and endobronchial biopsies.
The minor C allele of IL6R SNP rs2228145 was associated with lower ppFEV1 in the SARP cohort (p=0.005), the CSGA cohort (0.008), and in combined cohort analysis (p=0.003). Additional associations with ppFVC, FEV1/FVC, and PC20 were observed. The rs2228145 C allele (Ala358) was more frequent in severe asthma phenotypic clusters. Elevated serum sIL6R was associated with lower ppFEV1 (p=0.02) and lower ppFVC (p=0.008) (N=146). IL6R protein expression was observed in BAL macrophages, airway epithelium, vascular endothelium, and airway smooth muscle.
The IL6R coding SNP rs2228145 (Asp358Ala) is a potential modifier of lung function in asthma and may identify subjects at risk for more severe asthma. IL6 transsignaling may have a pathogenic role in the lung.
PMCID: PMC3409329  PMID: 22554704
soluble interleukin 6 receptor; sIL6R; interleukin 6; IL6; asthma; pulmonary lung function; severe asthma; IL6 transsignaling; genetic variation; SNP rs2228145
3.  MAPK Regulation of IL-4/-13 Receptors Contributes to the Synergistic Increase in CCL11/Eotaxin-1 in Response to TGF-β1 and IL-13 in Human Airway Fibroblasts 
CCL11/eotaxin-1 is a potent eosinophilic CC chemokine expressed by primary human fibroblasts. The combination of TGF-β1 and IL-13 synergistically increases CCL11 expression, but the mechanisms behind the synergy are unclear. To address this, human airway fibroblast cultures from normal and asthmatic subjects were exposed to IL-13 alone or TGF-β1 plus IL-13. Transcriptional (nuclear run-on) and post-transcriptional (mRNA stability) assays confirmed that transcriptional regulation is critical for synergistic expression of CCL11. TGF-β1 plus IL-13 synergistically increased STAT-6 phosphorylation, nuclear translocation and binding to the CCL11 promoter as compared to IL-13 alone. STAT-6 siRNA significantly knocked down both STAT-6 mRNA expression and phosphorylation, and inhibited CCL11 mRNA and protein expression.
Regulation of the IL-4 receptor α (IL-4Rα) complex by TGF-β1 augmented IL-13 signaling by dampening IL-13 receptor α2 (IL-13Rα2) expression, overcoming IL-13's autoregulation of its pathway and enhancing the expression of CCL11. Our data suggest that TGF-β1 induced activation of the MEK-ERK pathway reduces IL-13Rα2 expression induced by IL-13. Thus, TGF-β1, a pleiotropic cytokine upregulated in asthmatic airways, can augment eosinophilic inflammation by interfering with IL-13's negative feedback autoregulatory loop under MEK/ERK dependent conditions.
PMCID: PMC3370069  PMID: 22573806
human airway fibroblasts; CCL11/Eotaxin-1; IL-13; TGF-β1; actinomycin D; STAT-6; MEK-ERK; CHIP; siRNA; qRT-PCR; IL-13Rα
4.  Epithelial eotaxin-2 and eotaxin-3 expression: relation to asthma severity, luminal eosinophilia and age at onset 
Thorax  2012;67(12):1061-1066.
Eosinophilic inflammation is implicated in asthma. Eotaxin 1–3 regulate eosinophil trafficking into the airways along with other chemotactic factors. However, the epithelial and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cell expression of these chemokines in relation to asthma severity and eosinophilic phenotypes has not been addressed.
To measure the expression of the three eotaxin isoforms in bronchoscopically obtained samples and compare them with clinically relevant parameters between normal subjects and patients with asthma.
Normal subjects and patients with asthma of varying severity recruited through the Severe Asthma Research Program underwent clinical assessment and bronchoscopy with airway brushing and BAL. Eotaxin 1–3 mRNA/protein were measured in epithelial and BAL cells and compared with asthma severity, control and eosinophilic inflammation.
Eotaxin-2 and eotaxin-3 mRNA and eotaxin-2 protein were increased in airway epithelial brushings from patients with asthma and were highest in cases of severe asthma (p values 0.0155, 0.0033 and 0.0006, respectively), with eotaxin-2 protein increased with age at onset. BAL cells normally expressed high levels of eotaxin-2 mRNA/protein but BAL fluid levels of eotaxin-2 were lowest in severe asthma. Epithelial eotaxin-2 and eotaxin-3 mRNA/protein was associated with sputum eosinophilia, lower forced expiratory volume in 1 s and more asthma exacerbations. Airway epithelial cell eotaxin-2 protein differed by asthma severity only in those with late onset disease, and tended to be highest in those with late onset eosinophilic asthma.
Epithelial eotaxin-2 and 3 are increased in asthma and severe asthma. Their expression may contribute to luminal migration of eosinophils, especially in later onset disease, asthma control and severity.
PMCID: PMC3652589  PMID: 23015684
5.  Nitric oxide and related enzymes in asthma: Relation to severity, enzyme function and inflammation 
Exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) associates with asthma and eosinophilic inflammation. However, relationships between nitric oxide synthases, arginase, FeNO, asthma severity and inflammation remain poorly understood.
To determine the relationships of iNOS expression/activation and arginase 2 expression with asthma severity, FeNO, nitrotyrosine (NT) and eosinophilic inflammation.
Bronchial brushings and sputum were obtained from 25 Normal Controls, 8 Mild/no inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), 16 Mild-Moderate/with ICS and 35 Severe Asthmatics. FeNO was measured the same day by ATS/ERS standards. iNOS, Arginase2 mRNA/protein and NT protein were measured in lysates from bronchial brushings by quantitative real time PCR and Western Blot. Induced sputum differentials were obtained.
Severe asthma was associated with the highest levels of iNOS protein and mRNA, although the index of iNOS mRNA to arginase2 mRNA most strongly differentiated severe from milder asthma. When evaluating NO-related enzyme functionality, iNOS mRNA/protein expression both strongly predicted FeNO (r=0.61, p<0.0001 for both). Only iNOS protein predicted NT levels (r=0.48, p=0.003) with the strongest relationship in severe asthma (r=0.61, p=0.009). iNOS protein, FeNO and NT all correlated with sputum eosinophils, but the relationships were again strongest in severe asthma. Controlling for arginase 2 mRNA/protein did not impact any functional outcome.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance
These data suggest that while iNOS expression from epithelial brushings is highest in severe asthma, factors controlling arginase2 mRNA expression significantly improve differentiation of severity. In contrast, functionality of the NO pathway as measured by FeNO, NT and eosinophilic inflammation, is strongly associated with iNOS expression alone, particularly in severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC3650251  PMID: 22092728
exhaled nitric oxide; airway epithelial cells; iNOS; arginase 2; nitrotyrosine
6.  Safety of Investigative Bronchoscopy in the Severe Asthma Research Program 
Investigative bronchoscopy was performed in a subset of participants in the Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) to gain insights into the pathobiology of severe disease. We evaluated the safety aspects of this procedure in this cohort with specific focus on patients with severe asthma.
To prospectively evaluate changes in lung function and the frequency of adverse events related to investigative bronchoscopy.
Bronchoscopy was performed using a common Manual of Procedures. A subset of very severe asthma was defined by severe airflow obstruction, chronic oral corticosteroid use and recent asthma exacerbations. Subjects were monitored for changes in lung function and contacted by telephone for 3 days after the procedure.
436 subjects underwent bronchoscopy (97 normal, 196 not severe, 102 severe and 41 very severe asthma). Nine subjects were evaluated in hospital settings after bronchoscopy; seven of these were respiratory related events. Recent Emergency Department visits, chronic oral corticosteroid use and a history of pneumonia were more frequent in subjects who had asthma exacerbations after bronchoscopy. The fall in FEV1 following bronchoscopy was similar in the severe compared to milder asthma group. Pre-bronchodilator FEV1 was the strongest predictor of change in FEV1 after bronchoscopy with larger decreases observed in subjects with better lung function.
Bronchoscopy in severe asthma subjects was well tolerated. Asthma exacerbations were rare and reduction in pulmonary function after the procedure was similar to subjects with less severe asthma. With proper precautions, investigative bronchoscopy can be performed safely in severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC3149754  PMID: 21496892
investigative bronchoscopy; safety; severe asthma; exacerbation
7.  The role of Th2 immune pathway modulation in the treatment of severe asthma and its phenotypes: Are we getting closer? 
Annals of internal medicine  2010;152(4):232-237.
New therapeutic approaches are needed for severe asthmatics who are refractory to standard therapy with high doses of inhaled corticosteroids plus long-acting β2-agonists. Current treatment guidelines for severe asthmatics from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program recommend the addition of oral corticosteroids, which are associated with significant morbidity, and for those with allergic asthma, anti-IgE. Genetic and translational studies, as well as clinical trials, suggest that in a sub-group of patients the pathobiology of severe asthma is mediated by immune pathways driven by Th2-type CD4+ T cells which produce a characteristic repertoire of interleukins, including IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13. Therefore, biological modifiers of Th2-type interleukins, such as monoclonal antibodies, soluble receptors and receptor antagonists, represent a rational strategy for developing new treatment approaches, but will need to be targeted to selected individuals in whom the appropriate Th2 immune pathway is “active.” The benefits of immune modifier therapies targeting Th2-type cytokines, however, will need to be weighed against the toxicities associated with inhibition of key biological pathways, as well as the expense of future medications. Therefore, future clinical trials will need to clearly establish the efficacy and safety of biological modifiers of Th2 immune pathways before these approaches can enter routine clinical practice for the treatment of severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC2846792  PMID: 20157138
8.  IL4Rα Mutations Are Associated with Asthma Exacerbations and Mast Cell/IgE Expression 
Background: Severe asthma has been associated with severe exacerbations, lower lung function and greater tissue inflammation. Previous studies have suggested that mutations in interleukin-4 receptor α (IL4Rα) are associated with lower lung function, higher IgE, and a gain in receptor function. However, an effect on exacerbations and tissue inflammation has not been shown.
Hypothesis: Allelic substitutions in IL4Rα are associated with asthma exacerbations, lower lung function, and tissue inflammation, in particular to mast cells and IgE.
Methods: Two well-characterized cohorts of subjects with severe asthma were analyzed for five single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in IL4Rα. These polymorphisms were compared with the history of severe asthma exacerbations and lung function. In the primary (National Jewish) cohort, these polymorphisms were also compared with endobronchial tissue inflammatory cells and local IgE.
Results: In both cohorts, the presence of the minor alleles at E375A and Q551R, which were more common in African Americans, was associated with a history of severe exacerbations and lower lung function. In the National Jewish cohort, the C allele at E375A was associated with higher tissue mast cells and higher levels of IgE bound to mast cells. The significance for most of these associations remained when whites (the larger racial subgroup) were analyzed separately.
Conclusions: SNPs in IL4Rα, which are more common in African Americans, are associated with severe asthma exacerbations, lower lung function, and increased mast cell–related tissue inflammation. Further studies of the impact of these mutations in African Americans and on receptor function are indicated.
PMCID: PMC1899282  PMID: 17170387
asthma; genetics; IL4Rα; exacerbations; mast cells; IgE
9.  Correlation of Systemic Superoxide Dismutase Deficiency to Airflow Obstruction in Asthma 
Rationale: Increased oxidative stress and decreased superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in the asthmatic airway are correlated to airflow limitation and hyperreactivity. We hypothesized that asthmatic individuals with higher levels of oxidative stress may have greater loss of SOD activity, which would be reflected systemically in loss of circulating SOD activity and clinically by development of severe asthma and/or worsening airflow limitation. Methods: To investigate this, serum SOD activity and proteins, the glutathione peroxidase/glutathione antioxidant system, and oxidatively modified amino acids were measured in subjects with asthma and healthy control subjects. Results: SOD activity, but not Mn-SOD or Cu,Zn-SOD protein, was lower in asthmatic serum as compared with control, and activity loss was significantly related to airflow limitation. Further, serum SOD activity demonstrated an inverse correlation with circulating levels of 3-bromotyrosine, a posttranslational modification of proteins produced by the eosinophil peroxidase system of eosinophils. Exposure of purified Cu,Zn-SOD to physiologically relevant levels of eosinophil peroxidase-generated reactive brominating species, reactive nitrogen species, or tyrosyl radicals in vitro confirmed that eosinophil-derived oxidative pathways promote enzyme inactivation. Conclusion: These findings are consistent with greater oxidant stress in asthma leading to greater inactivation of SOD, which likely amplifies inflammation and progressive airflow obstruction.
PMCID: PMC2718470  PMID: 15883124
asthma; superoxide dismutase; glutathione; pulmonary functions; peroxidase
10.  Genome-wide association study identifies TH1 pathway genes associated with lung function in asthmatic patients 
Recent meta-analyses of genome-wide association studies in general populations of European descent have identified 28 loci for lung function.
We sought to identify novel lung function loci specifically for asthma and to confirm lung function loci identified in general populations.
Genome-wide association studies of lung function (percent predicted FEV1 [ppFEV1], percent predicted forced vital capacity, and FEV1/forced vital capacity ratio) were performed in 4 white populations of European descent (n = 1544), followed by meta-analyses.
Seven of 28 previously identified lung function loci (HHIP, FAM13A, THSD4, GSTCD, NOTCH4-AGER, RARB, and ZNF323) identified in general populations were confirmed at single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) levels (P < .05). Four of 32 loci (IL12A, IL12RB1, STAT4, and IRF2) associated with ppFEV1 (P < 10−4) belong to the TH1 or IL-12 cytokine family pathway. By using a linear additive model, these 4 TH1 pathway SNPs cumulatively explained 2.9% to 7.8% of the variance in ppFEV1 values in 4 populations (P = 3 × 10−11). Genetic scores of these 4 SNPs were associated with ppFEV1 values (P = 2 × 10−7) and the American Thoracic Society severe asthma classification (P = .005) in the Severe Asthma Research Program population. TH2 pathway genes (IL13, TSLP, IL33, and IL1RL1) conferring asthma susceptibility were not associated with lung function.
Genes involved in airway structure/remodeling are associated with lung function in both general populations and asthmatic subjects. TH1 pathway genes involved in anti-virus/bacterial infection and inflammation modify lung function in asthmatic subjects. Genes associated with lung function that might affect asthma severity are distinct from those genes associated with asthma susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3746327  PMID: 23541324
Lung function; FEV1; asthma; TH1; IL12A; IL12RB1; STAT4; IRF2
11.  Prostaglandin D2 pathway upregulation: Relation to asthma severity, control, and TH2 inflammation 
Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) levels are increased in patients with severe, poorly controlled asthma in association with epithelial mast cells (MCs). PGD2, which is generated by hematopoietic prostaglandin D synthase (HPGDS), acts on 3 G protein–coupled receptors, including chemoattractant receptor–homologous molecule expressed on TH2 lymphocytes (CRTH2) and PGD2 receptor 1 (DP1). However, much remains to be understood regarding the presence and activation of these pathway elements in asthmatic patients.
We sought to compare the expression and activation of PGD2 pathway elements in bronchoscopically obtained samples from healthy control subjects and asthmatic patients across a range of disease severity and control, as well as in relation to TH2 pathway elements.
Epithelial cells and BAL fluid were evaluated for HPGDS (quantitative real-time PCR/immunohistochemistry [IHC]) and PGD2 (ELISA/liquid chromatography mass spectrometry) in relation to levels of MC proteases. Expression of the 2 inflammatory cell receptors DP1 and CRTH2 was evaluated on luminal cells. These PGD2 pathway markers were then compared with asthma severity, level of control, and markers of TH2 inflammation (blood eosinophils and fraction of exhaled nitric oxide).
Confirming previous results, BAL fluid PGD2 levels were highest in patients with severe asthma (overall P = .0001). Epithelial cell compartment HPGDS mRNA and IHC values differed among groups (P = .008 and P < .0001, respectively) and correlated with MC protease mRNA. CRTH2 mRNA and IHC values were highest in patients with severe asthma (P = .001 and P = .0001, respectively). Asthma exacerbations, poor asthma control, and TH2 inflammatory markers were associated with higher PGD2, HPGDS, and CRTH2 levels.
The current study identifies coordinated upregulation of the PGD2 pathway in patients with severe, poorly controlled, TH2-high asthma despite corticosteroid use.
PMCID: PMC3889167  PMID: 23506843
Asthma control; chemoattractant receptor–homologous molecule expressed on TH2 lymphocytes; prostaglandin D2; severe asthma; TH2 inflammation
12.  IL-4 receptor polymorphisms predict reduction in asthma exacerbations during response to an anti–IL-4 receptor α antagonist 
This is the first large pharmacogenetic investigation of the inflammatory IL-4/IL-13 pathway in patients with moderate-to-severe asthma. We analyzed genomic DNA from participants in a 12-week placebo-controlled efficacy trial of pitrakinra (1, 3, or 10 mg twice daily), a novel IL-4/IL-13 pathway antagonist ( NCT00801853).
The primary hypothesis for this analysis is that amino acid changes in the 3′ end of the IL-4 receptor α gene (IL4RA) or closely proximal variants would predict reductions in asthma exacerbations for subjects randomized to pitrakinra therapy.
Nineteen IL4RA single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were tested in 407 non-Hispanic white subjects for association with the primary clinical end point of asthma exacerbations and changes in secondary end points for asthma symptom scores.
The most consistent pharmacogenetic associations were observed for the correlated tagging SNPs rs8832 and rs1029489 in the IL4RA 3′ untranslated and proximal regions, respectively. Subjects homozygous for the rs8832 common G allele randomized to pitrakinra (placebo group nonsignificant) had decreased asthma exacerbations and decreased nocturnal awakenings and activities limited by asthma. There was also a significant pitrakinra dose-response relationship (placebo/1 mg/3 mg/10 mg) for exacerbations in subjects homozygous for the common allele in rs1029489 (P = .005) and rs8832 (P = .009) and the intronic SNPs rs3024585, rs3024622, and rs4787956 (P = .03).
This study demonstrates a significant pharmacogenetic interaction between anti–IL-4 receptor a therapy and IL4RA gene variation, identifying an asthma subgroup that is more responsive to therapy with this antagonist.
PMCID: PMC3992925  PMID: 22541248
Pharmacogenetics; pitrakinra; IL-4 receptor; asthma therapy; IL-4 receptor antagonist
14.  An Association between l-Arginine/Asymmetric Dimethyl Arginine Balance, Obesity, and the Age of Asthma Onset Phenotype 
Rationale: Increasing body mass index (BMI) has been associated with less fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO). This may be explained by an increase in the concentration of asymmetric dimethyl arginine (ADMA) relative to l-arginine, which can lead to greater nitric oxide synthase uncoupling.
Objectives: To compare this mechanism across age of asthma onset groups and determine its association with asthma morbidity and lung function.
Methods: Cross-sectional study of participants from the Severe Asthma Research Program, across early- (<12 yr) and late- (>12 yr) onset asthma phenotypes.
Measurements and Main Results: Subjects with late-onset asthma had a higher median plasma ADMA level (0.48 μM, [interquartile range (IQR), 0.35–0.7] compared with early onset, 0.37 μM [IQR, 0.29–0.59], P = 0.01) and lower median plasma l-arginine (late onset, 52.3 [IQR, 43–61] compared with early onset, 51 μM [IQR 39–66]; P = 0.02). The log of plasma l-arginine/ADMA was inversely correlated with BMI in the late- (r = −0.4, P = 0.0006) in contrast to the early-onset phenotype (r = −0.2, P = 0.07). Although FeNO was inversely associated with BMI in the late-onset phenotype (P = 0.02), the relationship was lost after adjusting for l-arginine/ADMA. Also in this phenotype, a reduced l-arginine/ADMA was associated with less IgE, increased respiratory symptoms, lower lung volumes, and worse asthma quality of life.
Conclusions: In late-onset asthma phenotype, plasma ratios of l-arginine to ADMA may explain the inverse relationship of BMI to FeNO. In addition, these lower l-arginine/ADMA ratios are associated with reduced lung function and increased respiratory symptom frequency, suggesting a role in the pathobiology of the late-onset phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3570651  PMID: 23204252
asthma; obesity; age of asthma onset; ADMA; arginine
15.  Enhanced suppressive function of regulatory T cells from patients with immune-mediated diseases following successful ex vivo expansion 
Clinical immunology (Orlando, Fla.)  2010;136(3):329-337.
Recent studies and our current data demonstrated the deficits in the numbers and/or functions of the CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ Treg cells in the patients with autoimmune diseases, indicating that restoration of Treg cells in these patients could be a potential therapeutic approach. Here, we demonstrated that CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ Treg cells can be purified, activated and expanded from peripheral blood of patients with immune-mediated diseases, to a similar degree to those from healthy donors. Within 3 weeks, Treg cells from most patients could be expanded ex vivo 100–2000 fold and maintained their phenotypic characteristics. Furthermore, ex vivo expanded Treg cells displayed potent and enhanced in vitro suppressive activities inhibiting T effector cell proliferation compared to Treg cells freshly purified from the same patients. The expanded Treg cells with enhanced biological function may provide an opportunity to restore the proper balance of immunity and tolerance, suggesting the potential of using Treg cell therapy for treatment of immune-mediated diseases.
PMCID: PMC3891466  PMID: 20472506
Human; Treg cells; Expansion; Suppression; Immune-mediated disease; Severe asthma; SLE; RA; MS; CD
16.  Toll-like receptors 2, 3 and 4 and thymic stromal lymphopoietin expression in fatal asthma 
Airway inflammation in asthma involves innate immune responses. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) are thought to be involved in airway inflammation, but their expression in asthmatics’ both large and small airways has not been investigated.
To analyze the expression of TLR2, TLR3, TLR4 and TSLP in large and small airways of asthmatics and compare their expression in smoking and nonsmoking asthmatics; to investigate whether TLR expression is associated with eosinophilic or neutrophilic airway inflammation and with Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae infection.
Using immunohistochemistry and image analysis, we investigated TLR2, TLR3, TLR4 and TSLP expression in large and small airways of 24 victims of fatal asthma, FA, (13 nonsmokers, 11 smokers) and 9 deceased control subjects (DCtrl). TLRs were also measured in 18 mild asthmatics (MA) and 12 healthy controls (HCtrl). Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae in autopsy lung tissue was analyzed using real-time polymerase chain reaction. Airway eosinophils and neutrophils were measured in all subjects.
Fatal asthma patients had higher TLR2 in the epithelial and outer layers of large and small airways compared with DCtrls. Smoking asthmatics had lower TLR2 levels in the inner and outer layers of the small airways than nonsmoking asthmatics. TSLP was increased in the epithelial and outer layers of the large airways of FA. FA patients had greater TLR3 expression in the outer layer of large airways and greater TLR4 expression in the outer layer of small airways. Eosinophilic airway inflammation was associated with TLR expression in the epithelium of FA. No bacterial DNA was detected in FA or DCtrls. MA and HCtrls had only a small difference in TLR3 expression.
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance
Increased expression of TLR 2, 3 and 4 and TSLP in fatal asthma may contribute to the acute inflammation surrounding asthma deaths.
PMCID: PMC3459227  PMID: 22994343
lung; innate immunity; immunohistochemistry
17.  Genome-wide association studies of asthma indicate opposite immunopathogenesis direction from autoimmune diseases 
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) of asthma have consistently implicated the ORM1-like 3 and gasdermin B (ORMDL3-GSDMB), IL33, IL-1 receptor–like 1 and IL-18 receptor 1 (IL1RL1-IL18R1), RAD50-IL13, thymic stromal lymphopoietin and WD repeat domain 36 region (TSLP-WDR36), and HLA-DR/DQ regions.
A GWAS of asthma was performed in a non-Hispanic white population.
A GWAS was performed in 813 Severe Asthma Research Program/Collaborative Studies on the Genetics of Asthma/Chicago Asthma Genetics Study cases and 1564 control subjects. The GWAS results were compared with those of the published GWASs of autoimmune diseases.
Multiple single nucleotide polymorphisms in the TNFAIP3 interacting protein 1 (TNIP1) gene, which interacts with TNFAIP3 and inhibits the TNF-α–induced nuclear factor κB inflammation pathway, were associated with asthma: rs1422673 (P = 3.44 × 10−7) and rs10036748 (P = 1.41 × 10−6, r2 = 0.67). rs1422673 was also associated with asthma in the published GABRIEL (P = .018) and EVE (P = 1.31 × 10−5) studies. The minor allele T of rs20541 in IL13 is the risk allele for asthma but the protective allele for psoriasis. The minor allele T of rs2395185 in HLA-DRA is the risk allele for asthma but the protective allele for ulcerative colitis. The minor allele A of rs2872507 in GSDMB is the protective allele for asthma but the risk allele for rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn disease, and ulcerative colitis. The T allele of rs10036748 in the TNIP1 gene is the minor protective allele for asthma but the minor or major risk allele for systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis in non-Hispanic white or Chinese subjects, respectively.
Our study suggests that single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with both asthma and autoimmune diseases might have opposite effects on immunopathogenesis. (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2012;130:861-8.)
PMCID: PMC3579216  PMID: 22694930
Asthma; genetics; genome-wide association study; TNFAIP3 interacting protein 1
18.  IL4RA Polymorphisms are Predictors of a Pharmacogenetic Response to a Novel IL4/IL13 Antagonist 
PMCID: PMC3772526  PMID: 20920778
IL4RA; genetics; pharmacogenetics; interleukin 4; interleukin 13; interleukin 4 receptor; allergen; asthma therapy
19.  Genome-wide Ancestry Association Testing Identifies a Common European Variant on 6q14.1 as a Risk Factor for Asthma in African Americans 
Genetic variants that contribute to asthma susceptibility may be present at varying frequencies in different populations, which is an important consideration and advantage for performing genetic association studies in admixed populations.
To identify asthma-associated loci in African Americans.
We compared local African and European ancestry estimated from dense single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotype data in African American adults with asthma and non-asthmatic controls. Allelic tests of association were performed within the candidate regions identified, correcting for local European admixture.
We identified a significant ancestry association peak on chromosomes 6q. Allelic tests for association within this region identified a SNP (rs1361549) on 6q14.1 that was associated with asthma exclusively in African Americans with local European admixture (OR=2.2). The risk allele is common in Europe (42% in the HapMap CEU) but absent in West Africa (0% in the HapMap YRI), suggesting the allele is present in African Americans due to recent European admixture. We replicated our findings in Puerto Ricans and similarly found that the signal of association is largely specific to individuals who are heterozygous for African and non-African ancestry at 6q14.1. However, we found no evidence for association in European Americans or in Puerto Ricans in the absence of local African ancestry, suggesting that the association with asthma at rs1361549 is due to an environmental or genetic interaction.
We identified a novel asthma-associated locus that is relevant to admixed populations with African ancestry, and highlight the importance of considering local ancestry in genetic association studies of admixed populations.
PMCID: PMC3503456  PMID: 22607992
asthma; population structure; genome-wide association study; admixture mapping; ancestry association testing; admixed populations; African Americans; Puerto Ricans
20.  Key findings and clinical implications from The Epidemiology and Natural History of Asthma: Outcomes and Treatment Regimens (TENOR) study 
Patients with severe or difficult-to-treat asthma are an understudied population but account for considerable asthma morbidity, mortality, and costs. The Epidemiology and Natural History of Asthma: Outcomes and Treatment Regimens (TENOR) study was a large, 3-year, multicenter, observational cohort study of 4756 patients (n = 3489 adults ≥18 years of age, n = 497 adolescents 13-17 years of age, and n = 770 children 6-12 years of age) with severe or difficult-to-treat asthma. TENOR's primary objective was to characterize the natural history of disease in this cohort. Data assessed semiannually and annually included demographics, medical history, comorbidities, asthma control, asthma-related health care use, medication use, lung function, IgE levels, self-reported asthma triggers, and asthma-related quality of life. We highlight the key findings and clinical implications from more than 25 peer-reviewed TENOR publications. Regardless of age, patients with severe or difficult-to-treat asthma demonstrated high rates of health care use and substantial asthma burden despite receiving multiple long-term controller medications. Recent exacerbation history was the strongest predictor of future asthma exacerbations. Uncontrolled asthma, as defined by the 2007 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines’ impairment domain, was highly prevalent and predictive of future asthma exacerbations; this assessment can be used to identify high-risk patients. IgE and allergen sensitization played a role in the majority of severe or difficult-to-treat asthmatic patients.
PMCID: PMC3622643  PMID: 22694932
TENOR; severe or difficult-to-treat asthma; asthma control; asthma exacerbations; burden; medication; quality of life; allergy; IgE
21.  Human Neutrophil Elastase Degrades SPLUNC1 and Impairs Airway Epithelial Defense against Bacteria 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64689.
Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) are a significant cause of mortality of COPD patients, and pose a huge burden on healthcare. One of the major causes of AECOPD is airway bacterial (e.g. nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae [NTHi]) infection. However, the mechanisms underlying bacterial infections during AECOPD remain poorly understood. As neutrophilic inflammation including increased release of human neutrophil elastase (HNE) is a salient feature of AECOPD, we hypothesized that HNE impairs airway epithelial defense against NTHi by degrading airway epithelial host defense proteins such as short palate, lung, and nasal epithelium clone 1 (SPLUNC1).
Methodology/Main Results
Recombinant human SPLUNC1 protein was incubated with HNE to confirm SPLUNC1 degradation by HNE. To determine if HNE-mediated impairment of host defense against NTHi was SPLUNC1-dependent, SPLUNC1 protein was added to HNE-treated primary normal human airway epithelial cells. The in vivo function of SPLUNC1 in NTHi defense was investigated by infecting SPLUNC1 knockout and wild-type mice intranasally with NTHi. We found that: (1) HNE directly increased NTHi load in human airway epithelial cells; (2) HNE degraded human SPLUNC1 protein; (3) Recombinant SPLUNC1 protein reduced NTHi levels in HNE-treated human airway epithelial cells; (4) NTHi levels in lungs of SPLUNC1 knockout mice were increased compared to wild-type mice; and (5) SPLUNC1 was reduced in lungs of COPD patients.
Our findings suggest that SPLUNC1 degradation by neutrophil elastase may increase airway susceptibility to bacterial infections. SPLUNC1 therapy likely attenuates bacterial infections during AECOPD.
PMCID: PMC3669426  PMID: 23741370
22.  Sleep Quality and Asthma Control and Quality of Life in Non-Severe and Severe Asthma 
Sleep & breathing = Schlaf & Atmung  2011;16(4):1129-1137.
The effect of sleep quality on asthma control independent from common comorbidities like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is unknown. This study examined the association between sleep quality and asthma control and quality of life after accounting for OSA and GERD in non-severe (NSA) and severe (SA) asthma.
Cross-sectional data from 60 normal controls, 143 with NSA, and 79 with SA participating in the Severe Asthma Research Program was examined. Those who reported using positive airway pressure therapy or were at high risk for OSA were excluded.
Both SA and NSA had poorer sleep quality than controls, with SA reporting the worst sleep quality. All asthmatics with GERD and 92% of those without GERD had poor sleep quality (p =.02). The majority (88%–100%) of NSA and SA participants who did not report nighttime asthma disturbances still reported having poor sleep quality. In both NSA and SA, poor sleep quality was associated with worse asthma control and quality of life after controlling for GERD and other covariates.
These results suggest that poor sleep quality is associated with poor asthma control and quality of life among asthmatics and cannot be explained by comorbid GERD and nighttime asthma disturbances.
PMCID: PMC3617495  PMID: 22102290
Asthma control; Gastroesphogeal reflux disease; Sleep
23.  Asthma Diagnosis and Airway Bronchodilator Response in HIV-infected Individuals 
Despite the high prevalence of respiratory symptoms and obstructive lung disease in HIV-infected persons, the prevalence of bronchodilator reversibility (BDR) and asthma has not been systematically studied during the era of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART).
To determine the prevalence of asthma diagnosis and related pulmonary function abnormalities in an HIV-infected cohort and to identify potential mechanisms.
A cross-sectional analysis of 223 HIV-infected individuals with data on respiratory symptoms and diagnoses, pulmonary function, sputum cell counts, and asthma-related cytokines and chemokines in serum/sputum.
Doctor-diagnosed asthma was present in 46 (20.6%) and BDR (≥200ml and ≥12% increase in FEV1 or FVC) in 20 participants (9.0%). Pulmonary symptoms and function were worse in those with doctor-diagnosed asthma. Doctor-diagnosed asthma was independently associated with female sex (p=0.04), body mass index >29.6kg/m2 (vs.<29.6kg/m2) (p=0.03), history of bacterial or Pneumocystis pneumonia (p=0.01), and with not currently taking ART (p=0.04), and in univariate analysis with parental history of asthma (n=180; p=0.004). High sputum eosinophil percentages (>2.3% based on the highest decile) were more likely in those with doctor-diagnosed asthma (p=0.02) or BDR (p=0.02). Doctor-diagnosed asthma tended to be more common with high sputum IL-4 (p=0.02) and RANTES (p=0.02), while BDR was associated with high plasma macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1α (p=0.002), and sputum MIP-1β levels (p=0.001).
Asthma diagnosis and BDR are prevalent in an HIV-infected outpatient cohort, and associations with family history, obesity, allergic inflammation, prior infection, the absence of ART, and elevated HIV-stimulated cytokines suggest possible mechanisms of HIV-associated asthma.
PMCID: PMC3294124  PMID: 22177327
HIV; asthma; airway obstruction; allergy
24.  Severe Asthma 
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) has characterized over the past 10 years 1,644 patients with asthma, including 583 individuals with severe asthma. SARP collaboration has led to a rapid recruitment of subjects and efficient sharing of samples among participating sites to conduct independent mechanistic investigations of severe asthma. Enrolled SARP subjects underwent detailed clinical, physiologic, genomic, and radiological evaluations. In addition, SARP investigators developed safe procedures for bronchoscopy in participants with asthma, including those with severe disease. SARP studies revealed that severe asthma is a heterogeneous disease with varying molecular, biochemical, and cellular inflammatory features and unique structure–function abnormalities. Priorities for future studies include recruitment of a larger number of subjects with severe asthma, including children, to allow further characterization of anatomic, physiologic, biochemical, and genetic factors related to severe disease in a longitudinal assessment to identify factors that modulate the natural history of severe asthma and provide mechanistic rationale for management strategies.
PMCID: PMC3297096  PMID: 22095547
asthma; remodeling; inflammation; bronchoscopy; imaging

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