A flow cytometry-based method was developed to quantify in vivo circulating neutrophil extracellular trap (NET) levels in plasma and compare them in patients with different chronic inflammatory lung diseases. Seventeen asthmatic and 11 control children, 12 adult controls, 46 asthmatic, 6 COPD and 6 adult patients with asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) were recruited in the study. The presence of NETs in unstimulated cell-free plasma was confirmed and visualized by confocal laser-scanning microscopy. No significant differences were found in plasma NET levels between children and adults, children with or without asthma and adults with or without asthma, COPD or ACOS. When asthmatic patients were stratified according to their disease severity the average plasma NET level was significantly higher in asthmatic patients with more serious symptoms (adjusted p = 0.027). Patients with poorer pulmonary functions had higher plasma NET levels which negatively correlated with the FEV1 values (r = -0.39, p = 0.002). Patients who were medicated daily with inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) had significantly lower average plasma NET level than patients who did not or just occasionally used ICS (p = 0.027). If further studies confirm the NET-lowering effect of ICS in the circulation, it can be utilized in diseases where NETosis contributes to the pathogenesis.
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