To examine the role of the bronchial microvasculature and adhesion molecule expression in severe asthma, the authors have performed an immunohistochemical study on bronchial biopsies comparing 15 glucocorticoid-dependent asthmatics, 15 mild asthmatics and eight control subjects.
Serially cut glycol methacrylate-embedded sections were stained with monoclonal antibodies identifying the vessel marker EN-4, intercellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1, vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM)-1, E- and P-selectin. Sections were also stained for lymphocyte function associated antigen (LFA)-1 and very late antigen (VLA)-4.
By comparison with mild asthma and nonasthma, severe asthma was characterized by increased numbers of submucosal vessels (p=0.009) which was associated with increased numbers of vessels expressing ICAM-1 (p=0.005). A highly significant correlation was found between the total number of EN-4+ vessels and the vessels expressing ICAM-1 (r=0.85, p=0.01). In contrast, E-selectin expression was lower in severe as compared with mild asthma (p=0.01) but not different from normal. No differences were found between the three groups in the expression of VCAM-1 and P-selectin nor in numbers of LFA-1+ and VLA-4+ cells.
The results of this study support the notion that mucosal neovascularization is an important feature of airways remodelling in severe asthma. This is associated with a relatively higher density of vessels expressing intercellular adhesion molecule-1, although the expression of this adhesion molecule per vessel was not raised.