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Peripheral blood eosinophils: a surrogate marker for airway eosinophilia in stable COPD

Authors Negewo N, McDonald V, Baines K, Wark P, Simpson J, Jones P, Gibson P

Received 11 November 2015

Accepted for publication 7 March 2016

Published 1 July 2016 Volume 2016:11(1) Pages 1495—1504


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Richard Russell

Netsanet A Negewo,1,2 Vanessa M McDonald,1–4 Katherine J Baines,1,2 Peter AB Wark,1–3 Jodie L Simpson,1,2 Paul W Jones,5 Peter G Gibson1–3

1Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia; 2Hunter Medical Research Institute, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia; 3Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle, NSW, Australia; 4School of Nursing and Midwifery, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia; 5Institute for Infection and Immunity, St George’s, University of London, London, UK

Sputum eosinophilia occurs in approximately one-third of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and can predict exacerbation risk and response to corticosteroid treatments. Sputum induction, however, requires expertise, may not always be successful, and does not provide point-of-care results. Easily applicable diagnostic markers that can predict sputum eosinophilia in stable COPD patients have the potential to progress COPD management. This study investigated the correlation and predictive relationship between peripheral blood and sputum eosinophils. It also examined the repeatability of blood eosinophil counts.
Methods: Stable COPD patients (n=141) were classified as eosinophilic or noneosinophilic based on their sputum cell counts (≥3%), and a cross-sectional analysis was conducted comparing their demographics, clinical characteristics, and blood cell counts. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis was used to assess the predictive ability of blood eosinophils for sputum eosinophilia. Intraclass correlation coefficient was used to examine the repeatability of blood eosinophil counts.
Results: Blood eosinophil counts were significantly higher in patients with sputum eosinophilia (n=45) compared to those without (0.3×109/L vs 0.15×109/L; P<0.0001). Blood eosinophils correlated with both the percentage (ρ=0.535; P<0.0001) and number of sputum eosinophils (ρ=0.473; P<0.0001). Absolute blood eosinophil count was predictive of sputum eosinophilia (area under the curve =0.76, 95% confidence interval [CI] =0.67–0.84; P<0.0001). At a threshold of ≥0.3×109/L (specificity =76%, sensitivity =60%, and positive likelihood ratio =2.5), peripheral blood eosinophil counts enabled identification of the presence or absence of sputum eosinophilia in 71% of the cases. A threshold of ≥0.4×109/L had similar classifying ability but better specificity (91.7%) and higher positive likelihood ratio (3.7). In contrast, ≥0.2×109/L offered a better sensitivity (91.1%) for ruling out sputum eosinophilia. There was a good agreement between two measurements of blood eosinophil count over a median of 28 days (intraclass correlation coefficient =0.8; 95% CI =0.66–0.88; P<0.0001).
Conclusion: Peripheral blood eosinophil counts can help identify the presence or absence of sputum eosinophilia in stable COPD patients with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

Keywords: sputum eosinophilia, diagnostic accuracy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stability of eosinophil counts

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