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Eur Respir J. 2011 Sep;38(3):594-602. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00139810. Epub 2011 Feb 10.

Airway inflammation is augmented by obesity and fatty acids in asthma.

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Dept of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.


Obesity and asthma are associated, but the mechanism(s) of the association have yet to be elucidated. The aim of this study was to assess airway inflammation in relation to obesity and plasma fatty acids in males and females with and without asthma. Obese (n=68) and nonobese (n=47) adults with asthma, and obese (n=16) and nonobese (n=63) healthy controls had induced sputum and venous blood samples analysed for inflammatory markers. There was a positive interaction between obesity and asthma on sputum neutrophil percentage (p=0.012) and C-reactive protein level (p=0.003). Although sputum eosinophil percentage was elevated in asthma (p=0.001), there was no effect of obesity (p=0.16). Sputum neutrophil percentage was positively associated with body mass index in females with asthma (β=1.015, 95% CI 0.258-1.772; p=0.009) and neutrophilic asthma was present in a greater proportion of obese compared with non-obese females (42.9% versus 16.2%; p=0.017). In males with asthma, sputum neutrophil percentage was positively associated with total plasma saturated fatty acids (β=0.108, 95% CI 0.036-0.180; p=0.004) and negatively with monounsaturated fatty acids (β= -0.068, 95% CI -0.131- -0.005; p=0.035). This was the first study to demonstrate an increase in neutrophilic airway inflammation in obese asthma. This relationship was significant only in females with asthma. In males, saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids were important predictors of neutrophilic airway inflammation in asthma.

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