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1.  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
2.  Markers of Vascular Perturbation Correlate with Airway Structural Change in Asthma 
Rationale: Air trapping and ventilation defects on imaging are characteristics of asthma. Airway wall thickening occurs in asthma and is associated with increased bronchial vascularity and vascular permeability. Vascular endothelial cell products have not been explored as a surrogate to mark structural airway changes in asthma.
Objectives: Determine whether reporters of vascular endothelial cell perturbation correlate with airway imaging metrics in patients with asthma of varying severity.
Methods: Plasma from Severe Asthma Research Program subjects was analyzed by ELISAs for soluble von Willebrand factor mature protein (VWF:Ag) and propeptide (VWFpp), P-selectin, and platelet factor 4. Additional subjects were analyzed over 48 hours after whole-lung antigen challenge. We calculated ventilation defect volume by hyperpolarized helium-3 magnetic resonance imaging and areas of low signal density by multidetector computed tomography (less than −856 Hounsfield units [HU] at functional residual capacity and −950 HU at total lung capacity [TLC]).
Measurements and Main Results: VWFpp and VWFpp/Ag ratio correlated with and predicted greater percentage defect volume on hyperpolarized helium-3 magnetic resonance imaging. P-selectin correlated with and predicted greater area of low density on chest multidetector computed tomography less than −950 HU at TLC. Platelet factor 4 did not correlate. Following whole-lung antigen challenge, variation in VWFpp, VWFpp/Ag, and P-selectin among time-points was less than that among subjects, indicating stability and repeatability of the measurements.
Conclusions: Plasma VWFpp and P-selectin may be useful as surrogates of functional and structural defects that are evident on imaging. The results raise important questions about why VWFpp and P-selectin are associated specifically with different imaging abnormalities.
PMCID: PMC3778758  PMID: 23855693
asthma; von Willebrand factor; P-selectin; magnetic resonance imaging; computed tomography
3.  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
4.  Platelet Activation, P-Selectin, and Eosinophil β1-Integrin Activation in Asthma 
Rationale: Eosinophil β1-integrin activation correlates inversely with FEV1 and directly with eosinophil-bound P-selectin in subjects with nonsevere allergic asthma.
Objectives: Determine the relationships between β1-integrin activation and pulmonary function or eosinophil-bound P-selectin in subjects with asthma of varying severity and discern the source of eosinophil-bound P-selectin.
Methods: Blood was assayed by flow cytometry for P-selectin and activated β1-integrin on eosinophils and platelets. Plasma was analyzed with ELISA for soluble P-selectin, platelet factor 4, and thrombospondin-1.
Measurements and Main Results: Activated β1-integrin correlated with eosinophil-bound P-selectin among all subjects with asthma even though activated β1-integrin was higher in subjects with nonsevere asthma than severe asthma. Activated β1-integrin correlated inversely with FEV1 corrected for FVC only in younger subjects with nonsevere asthma. Paradoxically, platelet surface P-selectin, a platelet activation marker, was low in subjects with severe asthma, whereas plasma platelet factor 4, a second platelet activation marker, was high. Correlations indicated that P-selectin–positive platelets complexed to eosinophils are the major source of the eosinophil-bound P-selectin associated with β1-integrin activation. After whole-lung antigen challenge of subjects with nonsevere asthma, a model of asthma exacerbation known to cause platelet activation, circulating eosinophils bearing P-selectin and activated β1-integrin disappeared.
Conclusions: The relationship between eosinophil β1-integrin activation and pulmonary function was replicated only for younger subjects with nonsevere asthma. However, we infer that platelet activation and binding of activated platelets to eosinophils followed by P-selectin–mediated eosinophil β1-integrin activation occur in both nonsevere and severe asthma with rapid movement of platelet–eosinophil complexes into the lung in more severe disease.
PMCID: PMC3297102  PMID: 22227382
asthma; blood platelets; eosinophils; P-selectin; integrins
5.  Mast Cell Phenotype, Location, and Activation in Severe Asthma 
Rationale: Severe asthma (SA) remains poorly understood. Mast cells (MC) are implicated in asthma pathogenesis, but it remains unknown how their phenotype, location, and activation relate to asthma severity.
Objectives: To compare MC-related markers measured in bronchoscopically obtained samples with clinically relevant parameters between normal subjects and subjects with asthma to clarify their pathobiologic importance.
Methods: Endobronchial biopsies, epithelial brushings, and bronchoalveolar lavage were obtained from subjects with asthma and normal subjects from the Severe Asthma Research Program (N = 199). Tryptase, chymase, and carboxypeptidase A (CPA)3 were used to identify total MC (MCTot) and the MCTC subset (MCs positive for both tryptase and chymase) using immunostaining and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction. Lavage was analyzed for tryptase and prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) by ELISA.
Measurements and Main Results: Submucosal MCTot (tryptase-positive by immunostaining) numbers were highest in “mild asthma/no inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) therapy” subjects and decreased with greater asthma severity (P = 0.002). In contrast, MCTC (chymase-positive by immunostaining) were the predominant (MCTC/MCTot > 50%) MC phenotype in SA (overall P = 0.005). Epithelial MCTot were also highest in mild asthma/no ICS, but were not lower in SA. Instead, they persisted and were predominantly MCTC. Epithelial CPA3 and tryptase mRNA supported the immunostaining data (overall P = 0.008 and P = 0.02, respectively). Lavage PGD2 was higher in SA than in other steroid-treated groups (overall P = 0.02), whereas tryptase did not differentiate the groups. In statistical models, PGD2 and MCTC/MCTot predicted SA.
Conclusions: Severe asthma is associated with a predominance of MCTC in the airway submucosa and epithelium. Activation of those MCTC may contribute to the increases in PGD2 levels. The data suggest an altered and active MC population contributes to SA pathology.
PMCID: PMC3056228  PMID: 20813890
prostaglandin D2; chymase; carboxypeptidase A
6.  Identification of Asthma Phenotypes Using Cluster Analysis in the Severe Asthma Research Program 
Rationale: The Severe Asthma Research Program cohort includes subjects with persistent asthma who have undergone detailed phenotypic characterization. Previous univariate methods compared features of mild, moderate, and severe asthma.
Objectives: To identify novel asthma phenotypes using an unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis.
Methods: Reduction of the initial 628 variables to 34 core variables was achieved by elimination of redundant data and transformation of categorical variables into ranked ordinal composite variables. Cluster analysis was performed on 726 subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: Five groups were identified. Subjects in Cluster 1 (n = 110) have early onset atopic asthma with normal lung function treated with two or fewer controller medications (82%) and minimal health care utilization. Cluster 2 (n = 321) consists of subjects with early-onset atopic asthma and preserved lung function but increased medication requirements (29% on three or more medications) and health care utilization. Cluster 3 (n = 59) is a unique group of mostly older obese women with late-onset nonatopic asthma, moderate reductions in FEV1, and frequent oral corticosteroid use to manage exacerbations. Subjects in Clusters 4 (n = 120) and 5 (n = 116) have severe airflow obstruction with bronchodilator responsiveness but differ in to their ability to attain normal lung function, age of asthma onset, atopic status, and use of oral corticosteroids.
Conclusions: Five distinct clinical phenotypes of asthma have been identified using unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis. All clusters contain subjects who meet the American Thoracic Society definition of severe asthma, which supports clinical heterogeneity in asthma and the need for new approaches for the classification of disease severity in asthma.
PMCID: PMC2822971  PMID: 19892860
asthma phenotype; definition; cluster analysis; severe asthma
7.  Attenuated P2X7 Pore Function as a Risk Factor for Virus-induced Loss of Asthma Control 
Rationale: Upper respiratory tract infection is a guideline accepted risk domain for the loss of asthma control. The ionotrophic nucleotide receptor P2X7 regulates compartmentalized acute inflammation and the immune response to airway pathogens.
Objectives: We hypothesized that variability in P2X7 function contributes to neutrophilic airway inflammation during a cold and thereby is linked to acute asthma.
Methods: Research volunteers with asthma were enrolled at the onset of a naturally occurring cold and monitored through convalescence, assessing symptoms, lung function, and airway inflammation. P2X7 pore activity in whole blood samples was measured using a genomically validated flow cytometric assay.
Measurements and Main Results: Thirty-five participants with mild to moderate allergic asthma were enrolled and 31 completed all visits. P2X7 pore function correlated with the change in nasal lavage neutrophil counts during the cold (Rs = 0.514, P = 0.004) and was inversely related to the change in asthma symptoms (Rs = −0.486, P = 0.009). The change in peak expiratory flow recordings, precold use of inhaled corticosteroids, and P2X7 pore function were multivariate predictors of asthma symptoms (P = 0.001, < 0.001 and = 0.003 respectively). Attenuated P2X7 activity was associated with the risk of losing asthma control (crude odds ratio, 11.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.1–106.4) even after adjustment for inhaled corticosteroids and rhinovirus (odds ratio, 15.0).
Conclusions: A whole blood P2X7 pore assay robustly identifies participants with loss-of-function genotypes. Using this assay as an epidemiologic tool, attenuated P2X7 pore activity may be a novel biomarker of virus-induced loss of asthma control.
PMCID: PMC2643076  PMID: 19201928
asthma; virus; neutrophils; P2X7
8.  Airway Lipoxin A4 Generation and Lipoxin A4 Receptor Expression Are Decreased in Severe Asthma 
Rationale: Airway inflammation is common in severe asthma despite antiinflammatory therapy with corticosteroids. Lipoxin A4 (LXA4) is an arachidonic acid–derived mediator that serves as an agonist for resolution of inflammation.
Objectives: Airway levels of LXA4, as well as the expression of lipoxin biosynthetic genes and receptors, in severe asthma.
Methods: Samples of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid were obtained from subjects with asthma and levels of LXA4 and related eicosanoids were measured. Expression of lipoxin biosynthetic genes was determined in whole blood, bronchoalveolar lavage cells, and endobronchial biopsies by quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and leukocyte LXA4 receptors were monitored by flow cytometry.
Measurements and Main Results: Individuals with severe asthma had significantly less LXA4 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (11.2 ± 2.1 pg/ml) than did subjects with nonsevere asthma (150.1 ± 38.5 pg/ml; P < 0.05). In contrast, levels of cysteinyl leukotrienes were increased in both asthma cohorts compared with healthy individuals. In severe asthma, 15-lipoxygenase-1 mean expression was decreased fivefold in bronchoalveolar lavage cells. In contrast, 15-lipoxgenase-1 was increased threefold in endobronchial biopsies, but expression of both 5-lipoxygenase and 15-lipoxygenase-2 in these samples was decreased. Cyclooxygenase-2 expression was decreased in all anatomic compartments sampled in severe asthma. Moreover, LXA4 receptor gene and protein expression were significantly decreased in severe asthma peripheral blood granulocytes.
Conclusions: Mechanisms underlying pathological airway responses in severe asthma include lipoxin underproduction with decreased expression of lipoxin biosynthetic enzymes and receptors. Together, these results indicate that severe asthma is characterized, in part, by defective lipoxin counterregulatory signaling circuits.
PMCID: PMC2542432  PMID: 18583575
severe asthma; lipoxins; eicosanoids
9.  The Presence of Rhinovirus in Lower Airways of Patients with Bronchial Asthma 
Rationale: The common cold virus, human rhinovirus (HRV), is the most frequent cause of asthma exacerbations. However, a possible contribution of HRV to the pathogenesis of chronic, persistent asthma has not been defined.
Objectives: To determine if patients with stable asthma, who are free of clinical signs of a respiratory infection for at least 3 weeks, harbor HRV in their bronchi more frequently than nonasthmatic control subjects, and whether clinical features of asthma are associated with the presence of HRV.
Methods: Immunohistochemistry and the indirect in situ reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction method were used to detect the presence of HRV in bronchial mucosal biopsies in patients with asthma and nonasthmatic control subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: HRV was found by immunohistochemistry in 9 of 14 bronchial biopsies from subjects with asthma (64.3%) and 2 of 6 nonasthmatic control subjects (33.3%) (P = 0.38). With the more sensitive indirect in situ reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction method, HRV was found in the mucosal biopsies of 73% of patients with asthma and 22% of nonasthmatic control subjects (P < 0.001). Subjects positive for HRV had lower pulmonary function, higher numbers of blood eosinophils and leukocytes, and eosinophilic infiltration in bronchial mucosa.
Conclusions: HRV was detected in the lower airway tissue of patients with asthma significantly more often than in nonasthmatic subjects, and its presence was associated with clinical features of more severe disease.
PMCID: PMC2383991  PMID: 18276945
asthma; infections; rhinovirus
10.  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
11.  Investigative Bronchoprovocation and Bronchoscopy in Airway Diseases 
Rationale: Basic and clinical research strategies used for many lung diseases have depended on volunteer subjects undergoing bronchoscopy to establish access to the airways to collect biological specimens and tissue, perhaps with added bronchoprovocation in asthma syndromes. These procedures have yielded a wealth of important scientific information. Since the last critical review more than a decade ago, some of the techniques and applications have changed, and untoward events have occurred, raising safety concerns and increasing institutional review scrutiny.
Objectives and Methods: To reappraise these investigational methods in the context of current knowledge, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health convened a working group to review these procedures used for airway disease research, emphasizing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Main Results: The group reaffirmed the scientific importance of investigative bronchoscopy and bronchoprovocation, even as less invasive technologies evolve. The group also considered the safety of bronchoscopy and bronchoprovocation with methacholine and antigen to be acceptable for volunteer subjects and patients, but stressed the need to monitor this closely and to emphasize proper training of participating medical research personnel. Issues were raised about vulnerable volunteers, especially children who need surrogates for informed consent.
Conclusion: This review of investigative bronchoscopy and bronchoprovocation could serve as the basis for future guidelines for the use of these procedures in the United States.
PMCID: PMC2718402  PMID: 16020805
airway hyperresponsiveness; asthma; bronchoalveolar lavage; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; lidocaine; methacholine; segmental allergen challenge
12.  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

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