Exhaled nitric oxide has been proposed as a useful noninvasive marker of airway inflammation in asthma. Great efforts have been made to standardize the methodology for exhaled nitric oxide measurement in both children and adults. As a consequence there is now an opportunity to establish the precise relationship between exhaled nitric oxide, atopy and airway inflammation, and to investigate whether or not there is a role for the measurement of exhaled nitric oxide in the management of patients with asthma.
A number of recent studies have investigated the relationship between exhaled nitric oxide and airway inflammation in asthma measured directly, using sputum induction, bronchoalveolar lavage and endobronchial biopsy. These measurements suggest that exhaled nitric oxide reflects eosinophilic airway inflammation in asthma, although there is no evidence for any relationship between exhaled nitric oxide and other airway inflammatory cells. Exhaled nitric oxide levels were found to be higher in atopic compared with nonatopic groups. These levels, however, are further elevated in atopic patients with asthma, suggesting that exhaled nitric oxide is not simply a marker of atopy. Although there is little evidence to support the routine use of measurement of exhaled nitric oxide in the management of patients with asthma, it may prove to be useful in assessing adherence to treatment with inhaled corticosteroids, or in the identification of patients in whom respiratory symptoms are associated with eosinophilic airway inflammation.
There is good evidence that exhaled nitric oxide reflects eosinophilic airway inflammation in asthma. Well designed, long-term studies are needed to evaluate whether the addition of exhaled nitric oxide measurements to clinical and lung function assessment results in improved asthma control.
Department of Paediatric Respiratory Medicine, Royal Brompton Hospital, London, UK
Correspondence to Donald N.R. Payne, Clinical Research Fellow, Department of Paediatric Respiratory Medicine, Royal Brompton Hospital, London SW3 6NP, UK Tel: +44 20 7352 8121; fax: +44 20 7351 8763; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org