Monitoring Antioxidant Enzyme Activity during Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Superoxide dismutases (SODs) and catalase (CAT) have been implicated as major antioxidant enzymes of the human lungs. In this study, we investigated whether activities of these enzymes are altered in the airways of patients hospitalized with acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD). SOD and CAT activities were measured in the sputum, exhaled breath condensate, and serum of 36 COPD patients experiencing a severe exacerbation. Measurements were performed using colorimetric assays in samples collected at the time of hospital admission and at the time of hospital discharge following treatment of AECOPD. For comparison, antioxidants were also assessed in 24 stable COPD patients and 23 healthy control subjects. SOD and CAT activities in sputum were significantly increased in patients with AECOPD compared to those with stable disease (SOD: 0.142 [0.053–0.81] vs. 0.038 [0.002–0.146] U/mL, p < 0.01; CAT: 48.7 [18.7–72.6] vs. 10.2 [2.9–40.6] nmol/min/mL, p < 0.05), while treatment of exacerbation led to a decrease in enzyme activities (SOD: 0.094 [0.046–0.45] U/mL, p < 0.05; CAT: 28.0 [7.3–60.4] nmol/min/mL, p < 0.005). No changes were observed in the serum (p > 0.05). Both SOD and CAT activities significantly correlated with sputum neutrophil and lymphocyte cell counts in patients with AECOPD. Moreover, SOD and CAT values correlated with each other and also with sputum malondialdehyde, an established marker for oxidative stress. Our data demonstrate that sputum antioxidant activity is elevated during COPD exacerbation and suggest that activation of SODs and CAT is an integral part of the human defense mechanism against the increased oxidant production associated with AECOPD.