Children less than 5 years of age with asthma were assessed for total eosinophil counts and scrum levels of the eosinophil proteins, eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) and eosinophil protein X (EPX). to determine whether these measurements would reflect eosinophilic inflammation in the airways. Initially 27 symptomatic patients, 14 atopic and 13 non-atopic were investigated. They had a mean age of 1.8 years and had never been treated with inhaled steroid and had not received Intal for 2 weeks prior to the assessment. The 14 atopic patients proved to have higher mean total eosinophil counts and serum levels of ECP and EPX than the 13 non-atopic patients (eosinophil counts 0.63 109/1 vs 0.26 × 109/1, P < 0.001; ECP 36.9 μg/1 vs 10.8 μg/1, P < 0.001; EPX 69.0 μg/1 v.s 19.6 μg/l, P < 0.01. Thirteen of these patients required treatment with daily doses of inhaled steroid and 11 had a repeal assessment (seven atopic and four non-atopic). The mean serum EC'P of the seven atopic patients had fallen significantly (40.6 to 22.9. P < 0.05) while the total eosinophil counts did not. These results suggest a difference in numbers and activity of eosinophils in a topic compared with non-atopic asthma in young children.
To determine whether the results were influenced by treatment with inhaled steroids. 31 patients who were being treated with daily inhaled steroid underwent assessment when they were symptomatic (22 samples) or asymptomatic (19 samples). Of the 31 patients. 11 were atopic and 20 non-atopic, Atopic asthmatics had higher levels of eosinophils and serum ECP than non-atopic patients when symptomatic patients were compared, despite treatment with inhaled steroid.
Finally, in order to determine whether the ECP correlates with atopy rather than asthma, 19 patients who were seen for assessment of a reaction to a food (usually peanut or egg) and who had a positive skin lest to the appropriate food were examined. Twelve of these patients had a history of intermittent asthma and a mean ECP of 31 9μg/I while seven patients had no asthma and a mean ECP of 13.4 μg/l (P < 0.05), The total eosinophil counts showed the same difference. This suggests that atopy in the absence of asthma may not be associated with an elevated eosinophil count or ECP level. The data suggest that atopy contributes lo childhood asthma, even in infancy, by mobilization and activation of eosinophils. Scrum ECP might be a useful measure of eosinophil activation in asthma of early childhood.