Small airway dysfunction as predictor and marker for clinical response to biological therapy in severe eosinophilic asthma: a longitudinal observational study

Mustafa Abdo*, Henrik Watz, Vera Veith, Anne Marie Kirsten, Heike Biller, Frauke Pedersen, Erika von Mutius, Matthias V. Kopp, Gesine Hansen, Benjamin Waschki, Klaus F. Rabe, Frederik Trinkmann, Thomas Bahmer

*Corresponding author for this work


Background: Anti-T2 biological therapies have proven to effectively reduce acute exacerbations and daily doses of oral steroids in severe eosinophilic asthma. Despite the remarkable clinical efficacy, there are usually only moderate improvements in airflow limitation, suggesting that other measures of lung function like small airway dysfunction (SAD) might better reflect the clinical response. We aimed to investigate if measures of small airway function would predict and correlate with the clinical response to anti-T2 therapy. Methods: We studied data of patients who were previously included in the German prospective longitudinal All Age Asthma Cohort (ALLIANCE) that recruits asthma patients of all severity grades and inflammatory phenotypes. The selection criteria for this analysis were adult patients with severe eosinophilic asthma under treatment with anti-T2 biological agents. Asthma control was assessed by asthma control test (ACT) and number of severe exacerbations. Small airway function was assessed by the frequency dependence of resistance (FDR, R5-20)) derived from impulse oscillometry (IOS) and the mean forced expiratory flow between 25 and 75% of the forced vital capacity (FEF25-75). We also studied air trapping (RV and RV/TLC), blood eosinophils and FeNO. Patients were classified into responders and partial or non-responders. Clinical response was defined as at least 50% reduction in annualized severe exacerbations and daily oral steroid doses accompanied with a minimum increase of 3 points in the ACT score. We used a Receiver Operator Characteristic (ROC) to study the capacity of FDR in predicting clinical response compared to other clinical variable like blood eosinophils. We studied the correlation between FDR measures and clinical response, represented by the ACT score and number of exacerbations, using linear regressions. Results: 20 patients were included (mean age, 59 ± 9 years; 60% female; mean body mass index (BMI), 27.6 ± 5.4 kg/m2; mean absolute blood eosinophils, 570 ± 389/µl; mean number of severe exacerbations 12 months prior to initiating the biological therapy, 5.0 ± 3; mean predicted FEV1, 76 ± 21%; mean predicted FDR, 224 ± 140%; mean daily prednisolone dose, 6.4 ± 4.9 mg; mean ACT score, 15 ± 5). Responders had significantly higher baseline FDR compared to partial or non-responders but similar FEV1, FEF25–75, RV and RV/TLC. ROC analysis showed that the combination of FDR and blood eosinophils had the best predictive capacity of the clinical response among all tested clinical markers (FeNO, FEV1, FDR, blood eosinophils) with an AUC of 85% [67–100%], (CI = 0.95, p = 0.01). Linear regressions indicated better associations between improvements in FDR and ACT score (R2 = 0.42, p = 0.001) than with FEV1 and ACT score (R2 = 0.25, p = 0.013). Likewise, we observed better associations between improvements in FDR and reduction of exacerbations (R2 = 0.41, p = 0.001) than with FEV1 (R2 = 0.20, p = 0.025). Conclusion: Our data suggest that severe SAD may represent a distinct phenotype of eosinophilic asthma that substantially improves under anti-T2 biological therapy. Measures of small airway function might be useful in selecting appropriate patients qualifying for anti-T2 biological therapy in addition to blood eosinophil count.

Original languageEnglish
Article number278
JournalRespiratory Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01.12.2020


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