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Increased eosinophil cationic protein levels in bronchoalveolar lavage from wheezy infants


Jacques de Blic, Service de Pneumologie et d'Allergologie Pédiatriques Hôpital Necker-Enfants Malades, 149, rue de Sèvres, 75743 Paris Cedex 15, France
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Although studies examining the serum suggest a role for eosinophils in wheezing episodes in infants and toddlers, the presence of a chronic eosinophilic inflammation within their airways remains to be demonstrated. In this study we investigated whether eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) levels are increased in BAL fluid (BALF) from infants and toddlers with recurrent wheezing episodes, during an asymptomatic period. The levels of ECP in BALF were quantitated by radioimmunoassay in 61 children (36 with severe recurrent episodes of wheezing and 25 who were non-wheezy), aged 6–36 months, in whom flexible bronchoscopy was clinically indicated. BALF eosinophil counts were ≤ 1% in all patients and did not differ in wheezers, compared to non-wheezers. In contrast, ECP levels in BALF were ≥ 2.2 µg/l in 18 of 36 (50%) wheezy infants but in only three of 25 (12%) control infants (p < 0.01). Neutrophil counts were significantly higher in the wheezer group than in the non-wheezer group (8.1 × 103 cells/ml vs. 3.0 × 103 cells/ml). ECP levels in the BALF were not correlated with the absolute number of eosinophils (r = 0.03; p = 0.8) but were correlated with the absolute number of neutrophils (r = 0.54; p = 0.001). There was no association between high ECP levels in BALF and the atopic status of the wheezers. In conclusion, ECP levels are increased in BALF from young children with recurrent wheezing episodes, even during relatively quiescent periods, suggesting a chronic increased cell activation in the lower airways.