High serum levels of tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin-8 in severe asthma: markers of systemic inflammation?


Fabio L.M. Ricciardolo, Pulmonary Department, G. Gaslini Institute, Largo G. Gaslini 5, 16147 Genoa, Italy.
E-mail: fabioricciardolo@ospedale-gaslini.ge.it


Background Severe asthma is characterized by elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and neutrophilic inflammation in the airways. Blood cytokines, markers of ‘systemic’ inflammation, may be a feature of amplified inflammation in severe asthma.

Objective To detect differences in IL-8, TNF-α, IL-16 and IL-13 levels in the serum(s) of stable severe and mild–moderate asthmatics related to blood leucocytes proportion, airway calibre and exhaled nitric oxide (NO) levels.

Methods We assessed cytokine serum levels by ELISA and blood leucocyte counts by an alkaline peroxidase method in 20 healthy controls, 22 mild–moderate [forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1)(%pred): 89±3] and 14 severe asthmatics [FEV1(%pred): 49±2].

Results IL-8 and TNF-α levels were higher in severe asthmatics than in mild–moderate asthmatics or in controls (P<0.05). No differences in IL-16 and IL-13 levels were detected. Severe asthmatics showed higher circulating neutrophil and eosinophil number than controls (P<0.05). In severe asthmatics, exhaled NO levels were superior than in controls (P<0.05), but inferior than in mild–moderate asthmatics (P<0.05). We found positive correlation between TNF-α levels and exhaled NO (r=0.67; P=0.01) or circulating neutrophil counts (r=0.57; P=0.03) in severe asthmatics.

Conclusion sTNF-α and sIL-8 are markers of ‘systemic’ inflammation in severe asthmatics, in conjunction with augmented circulating neutrophils, suggesting the involvement of neutrophil-derived cytokine pattern in severe asthma.