Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are characterized by airway inflammation, which can be assessed by bronchoscopic techniques as well as by the analysis of induced sputum.
A method to induce sputum with inhaled hypertonic saline was adapted for use in 21 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients (mean baseline forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 1.60 L, or 54% predicted) and in 16 healthy volunteers. The success rate and safety of the method, were investigated along with the reproducibility of cell counts and differences in cell counts between both groups.
All subjects produced adequate samples and the procedure did not alter spirometric values. A marked sputum neutrophilia was noted in patients with COPD (74.9±4.7%), whereas mainly macrophages were seen in healthy volunteers (74.0±4.0%). Reliability of the cell counts was high, both within investigators (r=0.99 neutrophils, r=0.99 macrophages) and between investigators (r=0.95 neutrophils, r=0.77 macrophages). In patients with COPD, an inverse correlation was noted between percentage of neutrophils and FEV1 (rs= -0.48, p<0.05). Immunostaining revealed a large proportion of activated macrophages in both groups.
It was concluded that induction of sputum is a safe and reproducible method to study the composition of airway secretions in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.