BACKGROUND: Little is known about the relationship between airway inflammatory phenotypes and some important asthma features such as small airway dysfunction (SAD).

OBJECTIVE: To describe the longitudinal impact of airway inflammatory phenotypes on SAD and asthma outcomes.

METHODS: We measured eosinophil and neutrophil counts in induced sputum at baseline and 1 year later to stratify 197 adult patients with asthma into 4 inflammatory phenotypes. We conducted a comprehensive assessment of lung function using spirometry, body plethysmography, impulse oscillometry, and inert gas single and multiple breath washouts. We compared lung function, asthma severity, exacerbation frequency, and symptom control between the phenotypes. We studied the longitudinal impact of persistent sputum inflammatory phenotypes and the change of sputum cell counts on lung function.

RESULTS: Patients were stratified into eosinophilic (23%, n = 45), neutrophilic (33%, n = 62), mixed granulocytic (22%, n = 43), and paucigranulocytic (24%, n = 47) phenotypes. Patients with eosinophilic and mixed granulocytic asthma had higher rates of airflow obstruction and severe exacerbation as well as poorer symptom control than patients with paucigranulocytic asthma. All SAD measures were worse in patients with eosinophilic and mixed asthma than in those with paucigranulocytic asthma (all P values <.05). Eosinophilic asthma also indicated worse distal airflow obstruction, increased ventilation inhomogeneity (all P values <.05), and higher tendency for severe exacerbation (P = .07) than neutrophilic asthma. Longitudinally, persistent mixed granulocytic asthma was associated with the worst follow-up measures of SAD compared with persistent neutrophilic, persistent paucigranulocytic, or nonpersistent asthma phenotypes. In patients with stable forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), the mean increase in small airway resistance (R5-20) was greater in patients with persistent mixed granulocytic asthma (+103%) than in patients with persistent neutrophilic (+26%), P = .040, or persistent paucigranulocytic asthma (-41%), P = .028. Multivariate models adjusted for confounders and treatment with inhaled or oral corticosteroids or antieosinophilic biologics indicated that the change of sputum eosinophil rather than neutrophil counts is an independent predictor for the longitudinal change in FEV1, forced expiratory flow at 25% to 75% of forced vital capacity, specific effective airway resistance, residual lung volume, and lung clearance index.

CONCLUSIONS: In asthma, airway eosinophilic inflammation is the main driver of lung function impairment and poor disease outcomes, which might also be aggravated by the coexistence of airway neutrophilia to confer a severe mixed granulocytic asthma phenotype. Persistent airway eosinophilia might be associated with dynamic SAD even in patients with stable FEV1.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe journal of allergy and clinical immunology. In practice
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1545-1553.e2
Publication statusPublished - 06.2022


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