• allergy;
  • bronchial hyperreactivity;
  • eosinophil cationic protein;
  • farmers;
  • grass pollen;
  • IgE;
  • methacholine challenge

Background: This study correlates biomarkers of atopy (serum total and specific IgE) and inflammation (serum eosinophil cationic protein) with bronchial hyperreactivity assessed after the complete end of pollination, in a group of farmers suffering from grass-allergic asthma.

Methods: A total of 28 asthmatic farmers, with allergy to grass pollen, reporting persistent asthma symptoms after grass pollination, were enrolled. An accurate allergologic screening excluded other sensitizations. Analysis of total and grass-specific IgE and eosinophil cationic protein was carried out before (March) and during (May) the following spring. After the complete end of pollination, bronchial hyperreactivity was assessed.

Results: Symptoms (cough, wheezing) persisted during the autumn for a mean period of 41 days (range 13–69). Total IgE was moderately high and grass-specific IgE ranged from 9.25 to 41.12 kU/l without significant differences before and during spring. On the contrary, serum ECP levels significantly increased during the pollination period. PD20 methacholine evaluated after the end of grass pollination was negatively significantly correlated with levels of total IgE (r=−0.73; P<0.01) and the increase (from March to May) of serum ECP (r=−0.75; P<0.01). However, PD20 methacholine did not correlate with grass-specific IgE and serum ECP absolute values of both March and May. A positive correlation was found between number of postseasonal days with symptoms and both spring increase of serum ECP (r=0.75; P=0.04) and levels of total IgE (r=0.76; P<0.01). The number of postseasonal days with symptoms inversely correlated with postseason PD20 methacholine (r=−0.76; P<0.01).

Conclusions: The study demonstrates that in grass-sensitized farmers with asthmatic symptoms persisting for several weeks after grass pollination has ceased, the degree of airways hyperreactivity and the duration of postseasonal symptoms are directly related to the spring increase of ECP levels, as well as to the level of total IgE in serum. This allows us to identify two candidate biomarkers for the risk of developing prolonged asthma symptoms, and for the effective monitoring of anti-inflammatory treatment and allergen-specific immunotherapy.