Effect of aging on sputum inflammation and asthma control

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Aged asthmatic patients experience increased morbidity and mortality. Knowledge of the aging effect on airway inflammation and asthma control is limited.


We sought to compare airway inflammation and its relationship to asthma control in aged versus younger patients and determine whether differences are asthma specific or caused by “inflamm-aging.”


We performed a prospective study of aged (>60 years) and younger (21-40 years) inner-city patients with asthma. After a run-in period to control for inhaled corticosteroid use, induced sputum was collected. Age-matched nonasthmatic control subjects were included to measure age-related inflammatory changes.


Aged (mean age, 67.9 ± 5.1 years; n = 35) compared with younger (mean age, 30.8 ± 5.9 years; n = 37) asthmatic patients had significantly worse asthma control and lower FEV1. Aged asthmatic patients had higher sputum neutrophil (30.5 × 104/mL and 23.1%) and eosinophil (7.0 × 104/mL and 3.8%) numbers and percentages compared with younger patients (neutrophils, 13.0 × 104/mL [P < .01] and 6.9% [P < .01]; eosinophils, 2.0 × 104/mL [P < .01] and 1.2% [P < .01]). Aged asthmatic patients had higher sputum IL-6 (P < .01) and IL-8 (P = .01) levels. No significant inflammatory differences between aged and younger control subjects were observed. In aged asthmatic patients increased sputum IL-6 and macrophage inflammatory protein 3α/CCL20 levels were significantly associated with decreased asthma control and increased sputum neutrophil numbers and IL-1β, IL-6, and macrophage inflammatory protein 3α/CCL20 levels were associated with hospitalization.


The inflammatory patterns of aged versus younger asthmatic patients are associated with increased sputum neutrophil and eosinophil values and cytokine levels related to neutrophil recruitment. Differences in airway inflammation can contribute to diminished asthma control in the aged. Further understanding of asthma pathophysiology in aged patients is needed to improve management of this vulnerable population.

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