Background Allergic rhinitis (AR) is an inflammatory reaction not confined to a single local compartment, but rather involving the whole airway system. Allergens known to induce AR are not always the sole trigger of the inflammatory reaction as infections and organic dust might also cause exacerbations of rhinitis and associated conditions.
Objective To examine the effects of intranasal lipopolysaccharide (LPS) exposure, as a surrogate for upper airway bacterial infections, in patients with symptomatic AR.
Methods Fourteen patients with a history of moderate to severe pollen-induced AR were challenged intranasally with LPS. After 3–6 weeks, the same patients were challenged again, first with allergen and 24 h later with LPS. Nasal symptom scores, nasal lavage leucocyte counts and nasal airway resistance were assessed at 6–24 h after each provocation along with measurements of nitric oxide (NO) levels in the nose and lung.
Results Six hours after the LPS challenge, an increased level of leucocytes could be obtained in the lavage fluid, but no symptoms were experienced and no increase in nasal resistance could be recorded. The NO production in the upper and lower airways was similar before and 6 h after the provocation. In contrast, in patients exposed to pollen before the LPS challenge, both the nasal and the pulmonary NO levels were enhanced. This was accompanied by an increase in leucocytes.
Conclusion The present study demonstrates a priming effect of allergen on the nasal response to LPS as well as the presence of a systemic link between airway mucosal sites in the upper and lower airways. This suggests that exogenously derived signals, like upper airway infections, can interfere with the initiation, maintenance and progression of asthma.