, Volume 172, Issue 6, pp 313-334

Cellular and immunological markers of allergic and intrinsic bronchial asthma

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Abstract

Based on a growing body of evidence, allergic as well as intrinsic bronchial asthma have recently been defined as chronic persistent inflammatory disorders. Agreement has been reached that asthma can no longer be equated with bronchospasm only, and that the absence of reversibility of airflow obstruction does not exclude bronchial asthma. Bronchial hyperreactivity, on the other hand, although common to the vast majority of asthmatics, is not specific for bronchial asthma and provocation tests to measure bronchial hyperreactivity are not suited for routine monitoring of bronchial asthma. The clinical features of asthma are related to cellular as well as to soluble parameters of bronchial inflammation. Therefore, means of assessing and monitoring asthmatic inflammation have been investigated. Since eosinophils, T lymphocytes, mast cells, macrophages, neutrophils, epithelial cells, and structural cells, as well as various proinflammatory mediators and proteins, have been implicated in the pathogenesis of bronchial asthma, it has been anticipated that several of these cells or mediators might be either diagnostic of bronchial asthma or could serve as markers to monitor the underlying bronchial inflammation. Currently there is no diagnostic marker of bronchial asthma, which, on its own, either confirms or excludes bronchial asthma with appropriate sensitivity and specificity. Clinically the most reliable feature of bronchial asthma that seems to be related closely to the symptomatology still is the presence of eosinophils in peripheral blood, and especially in sputum. Eosinophil-derived products, particularly eosinophil granule proteins, have been investigated as markers of eosinophil participation in the pathogenesis of asthma and, comparable to eosinophil numbers themselves, are possible predictors of impending exacerbations of allergic, as well as intrinsic bronchial asthma. However, clinically their precise value in diagnosing and monitoring of bronchial asthma has not been documented convincingly and requires further investigation. Increasing data suggest that the regulation of eosinophilia is largely conveyed by interleukin-5 (IL-5) released from activated T-helper lymphocytes and possibly other cells. Therefore, T-lymphocyte activation, and especially assessment of systemic and local IL-5 levels, might be of diagnostic value and possibly useful in monitoring of inflammation in bronchial asthma in the future. A possible role and future applications for other markers of inflammation not related to eosinophils in monitoring or diagnosing bronchial asthma need to be established.

Offprint requests to: J.-C. Virchow, Jr.