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BACKGROUND: Non-eosinophilic asthma (NEA) is a distinct, often corticosteroid-resistant inflammatory asthma phenotype. NK and NKT-like cells are effector lymphocytes that we have shown, like CD28null T cells, to be relatively resistant to steroids and major sources of pro-inflammatory/cytotoxic mediators. We hypothesized that these cells and mediators would be increased in peripheral blood in NEA. METHODS: Adults with severe asthma and variable airflow obstruction, poorly controlled despite maintenance therapy with inhaled glucocorticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators, were recruited. Blood was assessed in those with eosinophilic asthma (n = 12), NEA (n = 25) and healthy non-smoking controls (n = 30). We applied flow cytometry to measure T, CD28null, NK and NKT-like cells and their expression of granzyme B, perforin, and killer inhibitory/activating receptors CD94(Kp43), CD158b and CD107A. Intracellular pro-inflammatory cytokine production (IFN-γ and TNF-α) was assessed in 18 controls and 10 patients with asthma/group. RESULTS: In NEA, there was increased expression of granzyme B by CD8+ T cells vs. CONTROLS: There was increased expression of granzyme B and CD158 and decreased CD94 on NK cells, vs. healthy controls and those with eosinophilic asthma. IFN-γ production by NK cells and TNF-α production by NKT-like cells in NEA were significantly increased vs. CONTROLS: In both eosinophilic and NEA phenotypes, there were significant increases in CD4+28null T cells (72% and 81% increases, respectively, vs. controls) and their expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Significant correlations were noted between blood CD4+28null T cells and neutrophil numbers in induced sputum, and between corticosteroid dose and blood NKT-like cells, and their production of granzyme B and TNF-α and NK IFN-γ. CONCLUSION AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: In poorly controlled asthma, altered expression of cytotoxic/pro-inflammatory mediators can be seen on a variety of lymphocyte subsets in the peripheral blood; these changes are most apparent in NEA. Whether this pattern of expression is a marker of treatment responsiveness and future risk of exacerbations remains to be determined.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Exp Allergy

Publication Date





60 - 70


CD4+28null T cells, NK and NKT-like cells, blood, cytotoxic, non-eosinophilic asthma, pro-inflammatory cytokines, Aged, Asthma, Biomarkers, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cytokines, Female, Granzymes, Humans, Immunophenotyping, Inflammation Mediators, Intracellular Space, Leukocyte Count, Lymphocyte Subsets, Male, Middle Aged, Perforin, Respiratory Function Tests, Risk Factors, Sputum