Immunological and functional bronchopulmonary abnormalities may be present in up to two-thirds of patients with Crohn's disease. Having recently described a mild increase in methacholine airways responsiveness in these patients, we investigated whether this physiological abnormality is associated with bronchial inflammation since it has previously been described in asthma.
Eighteen patients with Crohn's disease and 15 healthy controls matched for age, atopy and smoking habit, were studied. All the subjects underwent a bronchial methacholine challenge (1, 4 and 16 mg/mL) and a sputum induction by inhalation of hypertonic saline (NaCl 4.5%). The sputum samples were analysed for their cellular composition as well as for the levels of several mediators and proteins in the fluid phase, including eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), myeloperoxydase, albumin, α2-macroglobulin, interleukin-8 (IL-8), IgA and IL-8/immunoglobulin A complexes.
When compared to control subjects, patients with Crohn's disease had significantly higher sputum eosinophil counts (14.5% [0–79.9%] vs 0.2% [0–2.3%]; P < 0.001) and ECP levels (26.2 μg/L [4–124.2 μg/L] vs 9.8 μg/L [0–94.2 μg/L]; P < 0.05). However, patients with Crohn's disease had no sign of increased plasma exudation as reflected by sputum levels of albumin and α2-macroglobulin similar to those seen in control subjects. Furthermore the sputum levels of IL-8, IgA and IL-8/IgA complexes were not significantly different between the two groups. The magnitude of the fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 s after methacholine inhalation was significantly increased in Crohn's disease patients although it did not correlate with the extent of sputum eosinophilia or with the sputum ECP levels.
Crohn's disease patients without any clinical respiratory involvement have airway eosinophilia without local increased plasma exudation. However, bronchial eosinophilia in Crohn's disease per se is not sufficient to induce clinically significant airway hyperresponsiveness, suggesting that other factors than bronchial eosinophilic infiltration are required for the clinical expression of an airway instability.