Intraepithelial neutrophils in pediatric severe asthma are associated with better lung function

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Neutrophils and IL-17A have been linked mechanistically in models of allergic airways disease and have been associated with asthma severity. However, their role in pediatric asthma is unknown.


We sought to investigate the role of neutrophils and the IL-17A pathway in mediating pediatric severe therapy-resistant asthma (STRA).


Children with STRA (n = 51; age, 12.6 years; range, 6-16.3 years) and controls without asthma (n = 15; age, 4.75 years; range, 1.6-16 years) underwent clinically indicated fiberoptic bronchoscopy, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), endobronchial brushings, and biopsy. Neutrophils, IL-17A, and IL-17RA–expressing cells and levels of IL-17A and IL-22 were quantified in BAL and biopsies and related to clinical features. Primary bronchial epithelial cells were stimulated with IL-17A and/or IL-22, with and without budesonide.


Children with STRA had increased intraepithelial neutrophils, which positively correlated with FEV1 %predicted (r = 0.43; P = .008). Neutrophilhigh patients also had better symptom control, despite lower dose maintenance inhaled steroids. Submucosal neutrophils were not increased in children with STRA. Submucosal and epithelial IL-17A–positive cells and BAL IL-17A and IL-22 levels were similar in children with STRA and controls. However, there were significantly more IL-17RA–positive cells in the submucosa and epithelium in children with STRA compared with controls (P = .001). Stimulation of primary bronchial epithelial cells with IL-17A enhanced mRNA expression of IL-17RA and increased release of IL-8, even in the presence of budesonide.


A proportion of children with STRA exhibit increased intraepithelial airway neutrophilia that correlated with better lung function. STRA was also characterized by increased airway IL-17RA expression. These data suggest a potential beneficial rather than adverse role for neutrophils in pediatric severe asthma pathophysiology.

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