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1.  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
2.  A Large Subgroup of Mild-to-Moderate Asthma Is Persistently Noneosinophilic 
Rationale: Airway eosinophilia is typical of asthma, and many controller treatments target eosinophilic disease. Asthma is clinically heterogeneous, however, and a subgroup of people with asthma do not have airway eosinophilia. The size of this subgroup is uncertain because prior studies have not examined repeated measures of sputum cytology to determine when people with asthma have intermittent versus persistent sputum eosinophila and when they are persistently noneosinophilic.
Objectives: To determine the prevalence and clinical characteristics of the noneosinophilic asthma phenotype.
Methods: We analyzed sputum cytology data from 995 subjects with asthma enrolled in clinical trials in the Asthma Clinical Research Network where they had undergone sputum induction and measures of sputum cytology, often repeatedly, and assessment of responses to standardized asthma treatments.
Measurements and Main Results: In cross-sectional analyses, sputum eosinophilia (≥2% eosinophils) was found in only 36% of subjects with asthma not taking an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) and 17% of ICS-treated subjects with asthma; an absence of eosinophilia was noted frequently, even in subjects with asthma whose disease was suboptimally controlled. In repeated measures analyses of people with asthma not taking an ICS, 22% of subjects had sputum eosinophilia on every occasion (persistent eosinophilia); 31% had eosinophilia on at least one occasion (intermittent eosinophilia); and 47% had no eosinophilia on every occasion (persistently noneosinophilic). Two weeks of combined antiinflammatory therapy caused significant improvements in airflow obstruction in eosinophilic asthma, but not in persistently noneosinophilic asthma. In contrast, bronchodilator responses to albuterol were similar in eosinophilic and noneosinophilic asthma.
Conclusions: Approximately half of patients with mild-to-moderate asthma have persistently noneosinophilic disease, a disease phenotype that responds poorly to currently available antiinflammatory therapy.
PMCID: PMC3326288  PMID: 22268133
asthma; eosinophil; noneosinophilic; obesity; neutrophil
3.  The H Antigen at Epithelial Surfaces Is Associated with Susceptibility to Asthma Exacerbation 
Rationale: Acute asthma exacerbations, precipitated by viral infections, are a significant cause of morbidity, but not all patients with asthma are equally susceptible.
Objectives: To explore susceptibility factors for asthma exacerbations, we considered a role for histoblood group antigens because they are implicated in mechanisms of gastrointestinal viral infection, specifically the O-secretor mucin glycan phenotype. We investigated if this phenotype is associated with susceptibility to asthma exacerbation.
Methods: We performed two consecutive case-control studies in subjects with asthma who were either prone or resistant to asthma exacerbations. Exacerbation-prone cases had frequent use of prednisone for an asthma exacerbation and frequent asthma-related healthcare utilization, whereas exacerbation-resistant control subjects had rarely reported asthma exacerbations. The frequency of different mucin glycan phenotypes, defined by the presence or absence of H (O), A, B, or AB antigens, was compared in cases and control subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: In an initial study consisting of 49 subjects with asthma (23 cases and 26 control subjects), we found that having the O-secretor phenotype was associated with a 5.8-fold increase in the odds of being a case (95% confidence interval, 1.7–21.0; P = 0.006). In a replication study consisting of 204 subjects with asthma (101 cases and 103 control subjects), we found that having the O-secretor phenotype was associated with a 2.3-fold increased odds of being a case (95% confidence interval, 1.2–4.4; P = 0.02).
Conclusions: The O-secretor mucin glycan phenotype is associated with susceptibility to asthma exacerbation.
Clinical trial registered at (NCT00201266).
PMCID: PMC3040389  PMID: 20732988
asthma; mucins; fucosylation; H antigen; blood groups
4.  Distinct Roles of FOXA2 and FOXA3 in Allergic Airway Disease and Asthma 
Rationale: Increased production of mucus is a prominent feature of asthma. IL-13–driven mucous cell metaplasia is associated with decreased expression of the transcription factor FOXA2 and increased expression of the related transcription factor FOXA3 in animal and cell culture models.
Objectives: Establish how changes in FOXA2 and FOXA3 expression contribute to mucous metaplasia and determine whether FOXA2 and FOXA3 expression is altered in asthma.
Methods: Mice expressing a Foxa2 transgene in airway epithelial cells and mice deficient in Foxa3 were analyzed after allergen sensitization and challenge. Expression of FOXA2, FOXA3, MUC5AC, and the highly IL-13–inducible gene CLCA1 was analyzed in airway biopsies from subjects with asthma and control subjects.
Measurements and Main Results: Expression of a Foxa2 transgene reduced allergen-induced mucous metaplasia by 45% compared with control transgenic mice (P < 0.05) whereas inactivation of Foxa3 had no detectable effects on mucous metaplasia. Expression of FOXA2 was reduced in subjects with asthma and was negatively correlated with MUC5AC and CLCA1 levels in subjects with asthma. In contrast, FOXA3 expression was not significantly correlated with MUC5AC and was positively correlated with CLCA1.
Conclusions: Increasing Foxa2 expression reduced mucous metaplasia in an allergic mouse model. Subjects with asthma had decreased FOXA2 expression, suggesting that therapeutic approaches that increase FOXA2 expression or function could be beneficial for reducing mucus production in asthma. Unlike FOXA2, FOXA3 did not regulate mucous metaplasia.
PMCID: PMC2753788  PMID: 19628779
mucus; asthma; transcription factor; lung
5.  T-helper Type 2–driven Inflammation Defines Major Subphenotypes of Asthma 
Rationale: T-helper type 2 (Th2) inflammation, mediated by IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13, is considered the central molecular mechanism underlying asthma, and Th2 cytokines are emerging therapeutic targets. However, clinical studies increasingly suggest that asthma is heterogeneous.
Objectives: To determine whether this clinical heterogeneity reflects heterogeneity in underlying molecular mechanisms related to Th2 inflammation.
Methods: Using microarray and polymerase chain reaction analyses of airway epithelial brushings from 42 patients with mild-to-moderate asthma and 28 healthy control subjects, we classified subjects with asthma based on high or low expression of IL-13–inducible genes. We then validated this classification and investigated its clinical implications through analyses of cytokine expression in bronchial biopsies, markers of inflammation and remodeling, responsiveness to inhaled corticosteroids, and reproducibility on repeat examination.
Measurements and Main Results: Gene expression analyses identified two evenly sized and distinct subgroups, “Th2-high” and “Th2-low” asthma (the latter indistinguishable from control subjects). These subgroups differed significantly in expression of IL-5 and IL-13 in bronchial biopsies and in airway hyperresponsiveness, serum IgE, blood and airway eosinophilia, subepithelial fibrosis, and airway mucin gene expression (all P < 0.03). The lung function improvements expected with inhaled corticosteroids were restricted to Th2-high asthma, and Th2 markers were reproducible on repeat evaluation.
Conclusions: Asthma can be divided into at least two distinct molecular phenotypes defined by degree of Th2 inflammation. Th2 cytokines are likely to be a relevant therapeutic target in only a subset of patients with asthma. Furthermore, current models do not adequately explain non–Th2-driven asthma, which represents a significant proportion of patients and responds poorly to current therapies.
PMCID: PMC2742757  PMID: 19483109
asthma; phenotypes; inflammation; airway remodeling
6.  Ex Vivo Sputum Analysis Reveals Impairment of Protease-dependent Mucus Degradation by Plasma Proteins in Acute Asthma 
Rationale: Airway mucus plugs, composed of mucin glycoproteins mixed with plasma proteins, are an important cause of airway obstruction in acute severe asthma, and they are poorly treated with current therapies.
Objectives: To investigate mechanisms of airway mucus clearance in health and in acute severe asthma.
Methods: We collected airway mucus from patients with asthma and nonasthmatic control subjects, using sputum induction or tracheal aspiration. We used rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling and immunoblotting to characterize the physical properties of the mucus gel, the size profiles of mucins, and the degradation products of albumin in airway mucus.
Measurements and Main Results: Repeated ex vivo measures of size and entanglement of mucin polymers in airway mucus from nonasthmatic control subjects showed that the mucus gel is normally degraded by proteases and that albumin inhibits this degradation. In airway mucus collected from patients with asthma at various time points during acute asthma exacerbation, protease-driven mucus degradation was inhibited at the height of exacerbation but was restored during recovery. In immunoblots of human serum albumin digested by neutrophil elastase and in immunoblots of airway mucus, we found that albumin was a substrate of neutrophil elastase and that products of albumin degradation were abundant in airway mucus during acute asthma exacerbation.
Conclusions: Rheological methods complemented by centrifugation-based mucin size profiling of airway mucins in health and acute asthma reveal that mucin degradation is inhibited in acute asthma, and that an excess of plasma proteins present in acute asthma inhibits the degradation of mucins in a protease-dependent manner. These findings identify a novel mechanism whereby plasma exudation may impair airway mucus clearance.
PMCID: PMC2724713  PMID: 19423716
airway mucus; rheology; neutrophil elastase; plasma; asthma exacerbation
7.  Smoking Affects Response to Inhaled Corticosteroids or Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists in Asthma 
Rationale: One-quarter to one-third of individuals with asthma smoke, which may affect response to therapy and contribute to poor asthma control.
Objectives: To determine if the response to an inhaled corticosteroid or a leukotriene receptor antagonist is attenuated in individuals with asthma who smoke.
Methods: In a multicenter, placebo-controlled, double-blind, double-dummy, crossover trial, 44 nonsmokers and 39 light smokers with mild asthma were assigned randomly to treatment twice daily with inhaled beclomethasone and once daily with oral montelukast.
Measurements and Main Results: Primary outcome was change in prebronchodilator FEV1 in smokers versus nonsmokers. Secondary outcomes included peak flow, PC20 methacholine, symptoms, quality of life, and markers of airway inflammation. Despite similar FEV1, bronchodilator response, and sensitivity to methacholine at baseline, subjects with asthma who smoked had significantly more symptoms, worse quality of life, and lower daily peak flow than nonsmokers. Adherence to therapy did not differ significantly between smokers and nonsmokers, or between treatment arms. Beclomethasone significantly reduced sputum eosinophils and eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) in both smokers and nonsmokers, but increased FEV1 (170 ml, p = 0.0003) only in nonsmokers. Montelukast significantly increased a.m. peak flow in smokers (12.6 L/min, p = 0.002), but not in nonsmokers.
Conclusions: In subjects with mild asthma who smoke, the response to inhaled corticosteroids is attenuated, suggesting that adjustments to standard therapy may be required to attain asthma control. The greater improvement seen in some outcomes in smokers treated with montelukast suggests that leukotrienes may be important in this setting. Larger prospective studies are required to determine whether leukotriene modifiers can be recommended for managing asthma in patients who smoke.
PMCID: PMC1899291  PMID: 17204725
antiasthmatic agents; smoking adverse effects; corticosteroids; leukotrienes
8.  Combination Therapy with a Long-Acting β-Agonist and a Leukotriene Antagonist in Moderate Asthma 
Rationale: Long-acting β-agonists (LABAs) and inhaled corticosteroids administered together appear to be complementary in terms of effects on asthma control. The elements of asthma control achieved by LABAs (improved lung function) and leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs; protection against exacerbations) may be complementary as well.
Objective: We sought to determine whether the combination of the LTRA montelukast and the LABA salmeterol could provide an effective therapeutic strategy for asthma.
Methods and Measurements: In a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study of 192 subjects with moderate asthma, we compared the clinical efficacy of regular treatment over 14 weeks with the combination of montelukast and salmeterol to that with the combination of beclomethasone and salmeterol in moderate asthma. The primary efficacy outcome was time to treatment failure.
Main Results: Three months after the randomization of the last subject, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board determined that the primary research question had been answered and terminated the trial. The combination of montelukast and salmeterol was inferior to the combination of beclomethasone and salmeterol as judged by protection against asthma treatment failures (p = 0.0008), lung function (26 L/min difference in a.m. peak expiratory flow rate, p = 0.011), asthma control score (0.22 difference in Asthma Control Questionnaire score, p = 0.038), and markers of inflammation and airway reactivity.
Conclusions: Patients with moderate asthma similar to those we studied should not substitute the combination of an LTRA and an LABA for the combination of inhaled corticosteroid and an LABA.
PMCID: PMC1899264  PMID: 16973987
combination therapy; leukotriene; beta-agonists; inhaled corticosteroids
9.  Characterizing Mucous Cell Remodeling in Cystic Fibrosis 
Rationale: Relatively few studies have characterized mucous cells or mucins in detail in cystic fibrosis (CF), and the relationship between mucous cell abnormalities and neutrophilic inflammation is uncertain.
Objectives: To characterize mucous cell phenotypes and mucin profiles in CF and to determine if neutrophils accumulate around goblet cells in the epithelium and gland acini in the submucosa.
Methods: Bronchial biopsies were collected from 7 subjects with CF and 15 control subjects, and the morphology of mucous cells was measured. Immunostains for gel-forming mucins and neutrophil elastase were quantified.
Measurements and Main Results: Goblet cell size was increased in CF (p = 0.004), but the number of goblet cells was normal. The volume of submucosal glands was fourfold higher than normal (p = 0.031), but the proportion of mucous and serous cells in CF glands was normal. The patterns of expression of gel-forming mucins in epithelial and submucosal compartments in CF were similar to normal. Although neutrophil elastase immunostaining was intense in the epithelium in CF, neutrophils were largely absent around gland acini in the submucosa.
Conclusion: The most prominent pathologic feature in the CF airway is an increase in submucosal gland volume, but serous cell transdifferentiation to mucous cells does not occur, nor are gland acini inflamed with neutrophils. The mechanism for increased submucosal gland volume in CF deserves further study.
PMCID: PMC2648101  PMID: 16917116
cystic fibrosis; MUC5AC; MUC5B; neutrophil elastase; submucosal glands
10.  β-Adrenergic Receptor Polymorphisms and Response to Salmeterol 
Rationale: Several studies suggest that patients with asthma who are homozygous for arginine at the 16th position of the β2-adrenergic receptor may not benefit from short-acting β-agonists.
Objectives: We investigated whether such genotype-specific effects occur when patients are treated with long-acting β-agonists and whether such effects are modified by concurrent inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) use.
Methods: We compared salmeterol response in patients with asthma homozygous for arginine at B16 (B16Arg/Arg) with those homozygous for glycine at B16 (B16Gly/Gly) in two separate cohorts. In the first, subjects were randomized to regular therapy with salmeterol while simultaneously discontinuing ICS therapy. In the second, subjects were randomized to regular therapy with salmeterol while continuing concomitant ICS.
Results: In both trials, B16Arg/Arg subjects did not benefit compared with B16Gly/Gly subjects after salmeterol was initiated. In the first cohort, compared with placebo, the addition of salmeterol was associated with a 51.4 L/min lower A.M. peak expiratory flow (PEF; p = 0.005) in B16Arg/Arg subjects(salmeterol, n = 12; placebo, n = 5) as compared with B16Gly/Gly subjects (salmeterol, n = 13; placebo, n = 13). In the second cohort, B16Arg/Arg subjects treated with salmeterol and ICS concurrently (n = 8) had a lower A.M. PEF (36.8 L/min difference, p = 0.048) than B16Gly/Gly subjects (n = 22) treated with the same regimen. In addition, B16 Arg/Arg subjects in the second cohort had lower FEV1 (0.42 L, p = 0.003), increased symptom scores (0.2 units, p = 0.034), and increased albuterol rescue use (0.95 puffs/d, p = 0.004) compared with B16Gly/Gly subjects.
Conclusions: Relative to B16Gly/Gly patients with asthma, B16Arg/Arg patients with asthma may have an impaired therapeutic response to salmeterol in either the absence or presence of concurrent ICS use. Investigation of alternate treatment strategies may benefit this group.
PMCID: PMC2662935  PMID: 16322642
asthma; β-adrenergic receptor; β-agonists; pharmacogenetics; salmeterol

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