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.
asthma; remodeling; inflammation; bronchoscopy; imaging
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.
asthma; obesity; age of asthma onset; ADMA; arginine
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.
asthma; P2X7; exacerbation; Asthma Clinical Research Network; corticosteroids
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.
asthma; long-acting β-agonist; African Americans; race; treatment failure
Rationale: β2-agonists, the most common treatment for asthma, have a wide interindividual variability in response, which is partially attributed to genetic factors. We previously identified single nucleotide polymorphisms in the arginase 1 (ARG1) gene, which are associated with β2-agonist bronchodilator response (BDR).
Objectives: To identify cis-acting haplotypes in the ARG1 locus that are associated with BDR in patients with asthma and regulate gene expression in vitro.
Methods: We resequenced ARG1 in 96 individuals and identified three common, 5′ haplotypes (denoted 1, 2, and 3). A haplotype-based association analysis of BDR was performed in three independent, adult asthma drug trial populations. Next, each haplotype was cloned into vectors containing a luciferase reporter gene and transfected into human airway epithelial cells (BEAS-2B) to ascertain its effect on gene expression.
Measurements and Main Results: BDR varied by haplotype in each of the three populations with asthma. Individuals with haplotype 1 were more likely to have higher BDR, compared to those with haplotypes 2 and 3, which is supported by odds ratios of 1.25 (95% confidence interval, 1.03–1.71) and 2.18 (95% confidence interval, 1.34–2.52), respectively. Luciferase expression was 50% greater in cells transfected with haplotype 1 compared to haplotypes 2 and 3.
Conclusions: The identified ARG1 haplotypes seem to alter BDR and differentially regulate gene expression with a concordance of decreased BDR and reporter activity from haplotypes 2 and 3. These findings may facilitate pharmacogenetic tests to predict individuals who may benefit from other therapeutic agents in addition to β2-agonists for optimal asthma management.
Clinical trial registered with www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT00156819, NCT00046644, and NCT00073840).
pharmacogenetics; asthma; β2-agonist
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.
asthma phenotype; definition; cluster analysis; severe asthma
Rationale: Inhaled β-agonists are one of the most widely used classes of drugs for the treatment of asthma. However, a substantial proportion of patients with asthma do not have a favorable response to these drugs, and identifying genetic determinants of drug response may aid in tailoring treatment for individual patients.
Objectives: To screen variants in candidate genes in the steroid and β-adrenergic pathways for association with response to inhaled β-agonists.
Methods: We genotyped 844 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 111 candidate genes in 209 children and their parents participating in the Childhood Asthma Management Program. We screened the association of these SNPs with acute response to inhaled β-agonists (bronchodilator response [BDR]) using a novel algorithm implemented in a family-based association test that ranked SNPs in order of statistical power. Genes that had SNPs with median power in the highest quartile were then taken for replication analyses in three other asthma cohorts.
Measurements and Main Results: We identified 17 genes from the screening algorithm and genotyped 99 SNPs from these genes in a second population of patients with asthma. We then genotyped 63 SNPs from four genes with significant associations with BDR, for replication in a third and fourth population of patients with asthma. Evidence for association from the four asthma cohorts was combined, and SNPs from ARG1 were significantly associated with BDR. SNP rs2781659 survived Bonferroni correction for multiple testing (combined P value = 0.00048, adjusted P value = 0.047).
Conclusions: These findings identify ARG1 as a novel gene for acute BDR in both children and adults with asthma.
pharmacogenetics; asthma; bronchodilator agents
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.
asthma; arginine; arginase; nitric oxide; methylarginine
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.
antiasthmatic agents; smoking adverse effects; corticosteroids; leukotrienes
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.
combination therapy; leukotriene; beta-agonists; inhaled corticosteroids
Rationale: The comprehensive evaluation of gene variation, haplotype structure, and linkage disequilibrium is important in understanding the function of β2-adrenergic receptor gene (ADRβ2) on disease susceptibility, pulmonary function, and therapeutic responses in different ethnic groups with asthma.
Objectives: To identify ADRβ2 polymorphisms and haplotype structure in white and African American subjects and to test for genotype and haplotype association with asthma phenotypes.
Methods: A 5.3-kb region of ADRβ2 was resequenced in 669 individuals from 429 whites and 240 African Americans. A total of 12 polymorphisms, representing an optimal haplotype tagging set, were genotyped in whites (338 patients and 326 control subjects) and African Americans (222 patients and 299 control subjects).
Results: A total of 49 polymorphisms were identified, 21 of which are novel; 31 polymorphisms (frequency > 0.03) were used to identify 24 haplotypes (frequency > 0.01) and assess linkage disequilibrium. Association with ratio (FEV1/FVC)2 for single-nucleotide polymorphism +79 (p < 0.05) was observed in African Americans. Significant haplotype association for (FEV1/FVC)2 was also observed in African Americans.
Conclusions: There are additional genetic variants besides +46 (Gly16Arg) that are important in determining asthma phenotypes. These data suggest that the length of a poly-C repeat (+1269) in the 3′ untranslated region of ADRβ2 may influence lung function, and may be important in delineating variation in β-agonist responses, especially in African Americans.
asthma; β2-adrenergic receptor; β-agonist therapy; DNA polymorphisms; pharmacogenomics
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.
asthma; β-adrenergic receptor; β-agonists; pharmacogenetics; salmeterol
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.
airway hyperresponsiveness; asthma; bronchoalveolar lavage; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; lidocaine; methacholine; segmental allergen challenge