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Experimental rhinovirus 16 infection increases intercellular adhesion molecule-1 expression in bronchial epithelium of asthmatics regardless of inhaled steroid treatment


Prof. Sterk Department of Pulmonology C2-P, Leiden University Medical Center, PO Box 9600, NL-2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands



Rhinovirus infections in airway epithelial cells in vitro have been shown to upregulate intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) expression. Epithelial ICAM-1, in its dual role as the major rhinovirus receptor and as adhesion molecule for inflammatory cells may be involved in the pathogenesis of rhinovirus-induced exacerbations of asthma.


We aimed to investigate the effect of experimental rhinovirus 16 (RV16) infection on ICAM-1 expression in bronchial mucosal biopsies in asthma. In addition, the effect of 2 weeks pretreatment with inhaled budesonide (800 μg b.d.) on RV16-associated changes in ICAM-1 expression was studied.


The study had a parallel, placebo-controlled design in 25 steroid-naive nonsmoking atopic asthmatic subjects. After 2 weeks budesonide (BUD) or placebo (PLAC) pretreatment bronchoscopy was performed 2 days before (day −2) and 6 days after (day 6) RV16 inoculation (on days 0 and 1). Immunohistochemical staining for ICAM-1 was performed on snap-frozen bronchial biopsies. ICAM-1 staining intensity on the basal epithelial cells was scored semiquantitatively from 1 (weak) to 3 (intense). Similarly, epithelial intactness was noted (1 = basal cells only, 2 = basal and parabasal cells, 3 = intact epithelium).


ICAM-1 scores were not significantly different between the groups at day −2 (P ≥ 0.08). Subsequent RV16 infection was associated with a trend towards an increase in ICAM-1 expression in the BUD-group (P = 0.07), whereas the increase was significant in the PLAC-group (P = 0.03). However, the increase was not significantly different between the groups (P = 0.74). Epithelial intactness score was not different between the groups before RV16 infection (P ≥ 0.07), and no significant changes were observed in either group (P ≥ 0.59). Moreover, ICAM-1 score did not correlate significantly with epithelium score in either group, at any time-point (P ≥ 0.27).


We conclude that an RV16 common cold in atopic asthmatic subjects is associated with increased ICAM-1 expression in the bronchial epithelium, which is not related to epithelial intactness. Glucocorticoid treatment does not appear to prevent the RV16-associated increased ICAM-1 expression. This suggests that other treatment modalities are required to protect against the spreading of infection during rhinovirus-induced exacerbations in asthma.