The inflammatory indicators in the tracheobronchial aspirate (TA) of 81 ventilated preterm infants with microbial colonisation of the airways and in non-colonised neonates were analysed on the first day of life. TA was assessed for chemotactic activity, neutrophil cell count, and concentrations of leukotriene B4, C5a, interleukin-1, interleukin-8, elastase-alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor, free elastase and albumin. Concentrations of mediators were related to concentrations of the secretory component of IgA. The infants' gestational age was mean (SD) 27.9 (2.0) weeks, birthweight 945 (179) g. In 12 infants (15%) microbial colonisation of the airways was present (Ureaplasma urealyticum n = 7; bacteria n = 5). Compared with non-colonised neonates (n = 69), chemotactic activity, neutrophil count, and concentrations of interleukin-1, leukotriene B4 and elastase-alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor were significantly higher in the colonised group. The difference was most pronounced for IL-1 concentrations, both with and without correction for secretory component. There was also a trend towards increased concentrations of interleukin-8 in the latter group. There were no differences for concentrations of C5a and albumin in the TA of both groups. It is concluded that airway colonisation with U urealyticum or bacteria at birth is associated with a clinically relevant bronchopulmonary inflammatory response. Increased concentrations of interleukin-1 in TA on the first day of life may be a marker of perinatal colonisation of the airways.
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