• allergen;
  • asthma;
  • cell culture;
  • cytokines;
  • sputum

Background: Th2 cytokine production from airway cells is thought to govern the eosinophilic airways inflammation in allergic asthma. Induced sputum has become a widely used technique to assess airways inflammation.

Methods: By applying the technique of induced sputum to collect airways cells, we have assessed the spontaneous production of a set of cytokines, including interleukin-4, 6, 10, interferon-γ and tumour necrosis factor-α, 6 h after a bronchial allergenic challenge with Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Dpt) in 12 sensitized asthmatics and compared the results obtained after inhalation of saline as control. A group of eight healthy non-allergic subjects was enrolled to control for any non-specific effect of Dpt. Cytokines were measured by a dynamic immunoassay during a 24-h sputum cell culture.

Results: Allergen challenge in sensitized asthmatics caused an acute and a late bronchospasm together with a rise in sputum eosinophil counts. Afterwards allergen sputum cells from allergic asthmatics displayed a rise in their production of IL-4 (P < 0.01), IL-6 (P < 0.05) and IL-10 (P < 0.05) when compared to saline. By this time sputum generation of IL-4 in atopic asthmatics was greater than in healthy subjects (P < 0.001). Furthermore, in allergic asthmatics there was a strong correlation between the rise in interleukin-4 production from sputum cells and the rise in sputum eosinophils (r = 0.87, P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Sputum cell culture is a useful model to assess cytokine production in allergic asthmatics who show a marked up-regulation of Th2 cytokines following acute allergen exposure. The rise in sputum eosinophil count following allergen challenge strongly correlates with the rise in IL-4 generation from sputum cells.