OBJECTIVES: Bronchial provocation tests that assess airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) are known to be useful in assisting the diagnosis of asthma and in monitoring inhaled corticosteroid therapy. We reviewed the use of bronchial provocation tests that use stimuli that act indirectly for monitoring the benefits of inhaled corticosteroids. DATA SOURCE: Published clinical trials investigating the effect of inhaled corticosteroids on bronchial hyperresponsiveness in persons with asthma were used for this review. STUDY SELECTION: Studies using indirect stimuli to provoke airway narrowing such as exercise, eucapnic voluntary hyperventilation, cold air hyperventilation, hypertonic saline, mannitol, or adenosine monophosphate (AMP) to assess the effect of inhaled corticosteroids were selected. RESULTS: Stimuli acting indirectly result in the release of a variety of bronchoconstricting mediators such as leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and histamine, from cells such as mast cells and eosinophils. A positive response to indirect stimuli is suggestive of active inflammation and AHR that is consistent with a diagnosis of asthma. Persons with a positive response to indirect stimuli benefit from daily treatment with inhaled corticosteroids. Symptoms and lung function are not useful to predict the long-term success of inhaled corticosteroid dose as they usually resolve rapidly, and well before inflammation and AHR has resolved. Following treatment, AHR to indirect stimuli is attenuated. Further, during long-term treatment, asthmatics can become as non-responsive as non-asthmatic healthy persons, suggesting that asthma is not active. CONCLUSIONS: Non-responsiveness to indirect bronchial provocation tests following inhaled corticosteroids occurs weeks to months following the resolution of symptoms and lung function. Non-responsiveness to indirect stimuli may provide a goal for adequate therapy with inhaled corticosteroids.
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