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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  Impact of Race on Asthma Treatment Failures in the Asthma Clinical Research Network 
Rationale: Recent studies suggest that people with asthma of different racial backgrounds may respond differently to various therapies.
Objectives: To use data from well-characterized participants in prior Asthma Clinical Research Network (ACRN) trials to determine whether racial differences affected asthma treatment failures.
Methods: We analyzed baseline phenotypes and treatment failure rates (worsening asthma resulting in systemic corticosteroid use, hospitalization, emergency department visit, prolonged decrease in peak expiratory flow, increase in albuterol use, or safety concerns) in subjects participating in 10 ACRN trials (1993–2003). Self-declared race was reported in each trial and treatment failure rates were stratified by race.
Measurements and Main Results: A total of 1,200 unique subjects (whites = 795 [66%]; African Americans = 233 [19%]; others = 172 [14%]; mean age = 32) were included in the analyses. At baseline, African Americans had fewer asthma symptoms (P < 0.001) and less average daily rescue inhaler use (P = 0.007) than whites. There were no differences in baseline FEV1 (% predicted); asthma quality of life; bronchial hyperreactivity; or exhaled nitric oxide concentrations. A total of 147 treatment failures were observed; a significantly higher proportion of African Americans (19.7%; n = 46) experienced a treatment failure compared with whites (12.7%; n = 101) (odds ratio = 1.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.2–2.5; P = 0.007). When stratified by treatment, African Americans receiving long-acting β-agonists were twice as likely as whites to experience a treatment failure (odds ratio = 2.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.3–3.6; P = 0.004), even when used with other controller therapies.
Conclusions: Despite having fewer asthma symptoms and less rescue β-agonist use, African-Americans with asthma have more treatment failures compared with whites, especially when taking long-acting β-agonists.
PMCID: PMC3361331  PMID: 21885625
asthma; long-acting β-agonist; African Americans; race; treatment failure
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.  Use of Exhaled Nitric Oxide Measurement to Identify a Reactive, at-Risk Phenotype among Patients with Asthma 
Rationale: Exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) is a biomarker of airway inflammation in mild to moderate asthma. However, whether FeNO levels are informative regarding airway inflammation in patients with severe asthma, who are refractory to conventional treatment, is unknown. Here, we hypothesized that classification of severe asthma based on airway inflammation as defined by FeNO levels would identify a more reactive, at-risk asthma phenotype.
Methods: FeNO and major features of asthma, including airway inflammation, airflow limitation, hyperinflation, hyperresponsiveness, and atopy, were determined in 446 individuals with various degrees of asthma severity (175 severe, 271 nonsevere) and 49 healthy subjects enrolled in the Severe Asthma Research Program.
Measurements and Main Results: FeNO levels were similar among patients with severe and nonsevere asthma. The proportion of individuals with high FeNO levels (>35 ppb) was the same (40%) among groups despite greater corticosteroid therapy in severe asthma. All patients with asthma and high FeNO had more airway reactivity (maximal reversal in response to bronchodilator administration and by methacholine challenge), more evidence of allergic airway inflammation (sputum eosinophils), more evidence of atopy (positive skin tests, higher serum IgE and blood eosinophils), and more hyperinflation, but decreased awareness of their symptoms. High FeNO identified those patients with severe asthma characterized by the greatest airflow obstruction and hyperinflation and most frequent use of emergency care.
Conclusions: Grouping of asthma by FeNO provides an independent classification of asthma severity, and among patients with severe asthma identifies the most reactive and worrisome asthma phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2874447  PMID: 20133930
nitric oxide; severe asthma; phenotype; airway reactivity; exhaled breath
7.  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
8.  Effectiveness and Safety of Bronchial Thermoplasty in the Treatment of Severe Asthma 
Rationale: Bronchial thermoplasty (BT) is a bronchoscopic procedure in which controlled thermal energy is applied to the airway wall to decrease smooth muscle.
Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of BT versus a sham procedure in subjects with severe asthma who remain symptomatic despite treatment with high-dose inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting β2-agonists.
Methods: A total of 288 adult subjects (Intent-to-Treat [ITT]) randomized to BT or sham control underwent three bronchoscopy procedures. Primary outcome was the difference in Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) scores from baseline to average of 6, 9, and 12 months (integrated AQLQ). Adverse events and health care use were collected to assess safety. Statistical design and analysis of the primary endpoint was Bayesian. Target posterior probability of superiority (PPS) of BT over sham was 95%, except for the primary endpoint (96.4%).
Measurements and Main Results: The improvement from baseline in the integrated AQLQ score was superior in the BT group compared with sham (BT, 1.35 ± 1.10; sham, 1.16 ± 1.23 [PPS, 96.0% ITT and 97.9% per protocol]). Seventy-nine percent of BT and 64% of sham subjects achieved changes in AQLQ of 0.5 or greater (PPS, 99.6%). Six percent more BT subjects were hospitalized in the treatment period (up to 6 wk after BT). In the posttreatment period (6–52 wk after BT), the BT group experienced fewer severe exacerbations, emergency department (ED) visits, and days missed from work/school compared with the sham group (PPS, 95.5, 99.9, and 99.3%, respectively).
Conclusions: BT in subjects with severe asthma improves asthma-specific quality of life with a reduction in severe exacerbations and healthcare use in the posttreatment period.
Clinical trial registered with (NCT00231114).
PMCID: PMC3269231  PMID: 19815809
asthma; Alair Bronchial Thermoplasty System; bronchial thermoplasty; bronchoscopic procedure; Asthma Quality of Life
9.  Alterations of the Arginine Metabolome in Asthma 
Rationale: As the sole nitrogen donor in nitric oxide (NO) synthesis and key intermediate in the urea cycle, arginine and its metabolic pathways are integrally linked to cellular respiration, metabolism, and inflammation.
Objectives: We hypothesized that arginine (Arg) bioavailability would be associated with airflow abnormalities and inflammation in subjects with asthma, and would be informative for asthma severity.
Methods: Arg bioavailability was assessed in subjects with severe and nonsevere asthma and healthy control subjects by determination of plasma Arg relative to its metabolic products, ornithine and citrulline, and relative to methylarginine inhibitors of NO synthases, and by serum arginase activity. Inflammatory parameters, including fraction of exhaled NO (FeNO), IgE, skin test positivity to allergens, bronchoalveolar lavage, and blood eosinophils, were also evaluated.
Measurements and Main Results: Subjects with asthma had greater Arg bioavailability, but also increased Arg catabolism compared with healthy control subjects, as evidenced by higher levels of FeNO and serum arginase activity. However, Arg bioavailability was positively associated with FeNO only in healthy control subjects; Arg bioavailability was unrelated to FeNO or other inflammatory parameters in severe or nonsevere asthma. Inflammatory parameters were related to airflow obstruction and reactivity in nonsevere asthma, but not in severe asthma. Conversely, Arg bioavailability was related to airflow obstruction in severe asthma, but not in nonsevere asthma. Modeling confirmed that measures of Arg bioavailabilty predict airflow obstruction only in severe asthma.
Conclusions: Unlike FeNO, Arg bioavailability is not a surrogate measure of inflammation; however, Arg bioavailability is strongly associated with airflow abnormalities in severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC2556449  PMID: 18635886
asthma; arginine; arginase; nitric oxide; methylarginine
10.  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
11.  Epithelial Cell Proliferation Contributes to Airway Remodeling in Severe Asthma 
Rationale: Despite long-term therapy with corticosteroids, patients with severe asthma develop irreversible airway obstruction.
Objectives: To evaluate if there are structural and functional differences in the airway epithelium in severe asthma associated with airway remodeling.
Methods: In bronchial biopsies from 21 normal subjects, 11 subjects with chronic bronchitis, 9 subjects with mild asthma, and 31 subjects with severe asthma, we evaluated epithelial cell morphology: epithelial thickness, lamina reticularis (LR) thickness, and epithelial desquamation. Levels of retinoblastoma protein (Rb), Ki67, and Bcl-2 were measured, reflecting cellular proliferation and death. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) was used to study cellular apoptosis.
Measurements and Main Results: Airway epithelial and LR thickness was greater in subjects with severe asthma compared with those with mild asthma, normal subjects, and diseased control subjects (p = 0.009 and 0.033, respectively). There was no significant difference in epithelial desquamation between groups. Active, hypophosphorylated Rb expression was decreased (p = 0.002) and Ki67 was increased (p < 0.01) in the epithelium of subjects with severe asthma as compared with normal subjects, indicating increased cellular proliferation. Bcl-2 expression was decreased (p < 0.001), indicating decreased cell death suppression. There was a greater level of apoptotic activity in the airway biopsy in subjects with severe asthma as compared with the normal subjects using the TUNEL assay (p = 0.002), suggesting increased cell death.
Conclusions: In subjects with severe asthma, as compared with subjects with mild asthma, normal subjects, and diseased control subjects, we found novel evidence of increased cellular proliferation in the airway contributing to a thickened epithelium and LR. These changes may contribute to the progressive decline in lung function and airway remodeling in patients with severe asthma.
PMCID: PMC1994213  PMID: 17463414
epithelium; desquamation; airflow obstruction
12.  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
13.  IL-12 p80 Is an Innate Epithelial Cell Effector That Mediates Chronic Allograft Dysfunction 
Rationale: Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome is the leading cause of chronic lung allograft dysfunction. We have demonstrated that respiratory viral infection is a bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome risk factor and virus-dependent injury induces expression of innate airway epithelial genes belonging to the interleukin (IL)-12 family. Thus, we hypothesized that epithelial cell IL-12 family members could mediate lung allograft dysfunction.
Objectives: We used mouse and human allograft specimens to evaluate the role of epithelial cell IL-12 family members in allograft dysfunction associated with and without viral infection.
Methods: Murine and human IL-12 family members were characterized and manipulated in allografts and then correlated with epithelial cell injury, immune cell accumulation, and collagen deposition.
Results: In a mouse model of lung transplantation, concurrent viral infection and allogeneic transplantation increased epithelial injury and this was followed by exaggerated accumulation of macrophages and collagen deposition. This virus-driven allograft dysfunction was associated with an epithelial innate response manifested by a synergistic increase in the production of the macrophage chemoattractant IL-12 p80 (p80), but not IL-12 or IL-23. Blockade or overexpression of donor epithelial p80 resulted in a corresponding abrogation or enhancement of macrophage accumulation and allograft dysfunction. We extended these findings to human recipients with viral infection and transplant bronchitis and again observed excessive epithelial p80 expression that correlated with increased macrophage accumulation.
Conclusions: These experiments support a role for an enhanced epithelial innate response as a central process in allograft dysfunction and identify the macrophage chemoattractant p80 as an innate epithelial effector of disease progression.
PMCID: PMC2648123  PMID: 16728708
graft rejection; innate immunity; lung transplantation; macrophage; virus
14.  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

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