BACKGROUND Nitric oxide (NO) is released by activated macrophages, neutrophils, and stimulated bronchial epithelial cells. Exhaled NO has been shown to be increased in patients with asthma and has been put forward as a marker of airways inflammation. However, we have found that exhaled NO is not raised in patients with cystic fibrosis, even during infective pulmonary exacerbation. One reason for this may be that excess airway secretions may prevent diffusion of gaseous NO into the airway lumen. We hypothesised that exhaled NO may not reflect total NO production in chronically suppurative airways and investigated nitrite as another marker of NO production.
METHODS Breath condensate nitrite concentration and exhaled NO levels were measured in 21 clinically stable patients with cystic fibrosis of mean age 26 years and mean FEV1 57% and 12 healthy normal volunteers of mean age 31 years. Breath condensate was collected with a validated method which excluded saliva and nasal air contamination and nitrite levels were measured using the Griess reaction. Exhaled NO was measured using a sensitive chemiluminescence analyser (LR2000) at an exhalation rate of 250 ml/s. Fourteen patients with cystic fibrosis had circulating plasma leucocyte levels and differential analysis performed on the day of breath collection.
RESULTS Nitrite levels were significantly higher in patients with cystic fibrosis than in normal subjects (median 1.93 μM compared with 0.33 μM). This correlated positively with circulating plasma leucocytes and neutrophils (r = 0.6). In contrast, exhaled NO values were not significantly different from the normal range (median 3.8 ppb vs 4.4 ppb). There was no correlation between breath condensate nitrite and lung function and between breath condensate nitrite and exhaled NO.
CONCLUSIONS Nitrite levels in breath condensate were raised in stable patients with cystic fibrosis in contrast to exhaled NO. This suggests that nitrite levels may be a more useful measure of NO production and possibly airways inflammation in suppurative airways and that exhaled NO may not reflect total NO production.
- cystic fibrosis
- breath condensate
- exhaled NO
- airways inflammation
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