Current research in pulmonology requires the use of biomarkers to investigate airway exposure and diseases, for both diagnostic and prognostic purposes. The traditional approach based on invasive approaches (lung lavages and biopsies) can now be replaced, at least in part, through the use of non invasively collected specimens (sputum and breath), in which biomarkers of exposure, effect and susceptibility can be searched. The discovery of specific lung-related proteins, which can spill over in blood or excreted in urine, further enhanced the spectrum of airway specific biomarkers to be studied. The recent introduction of high-performance 'omic' technologies - genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, and the rate at which biomarker candidates are being discovered, will permit the use of a combination of biomarkers for a more precise selection of patient with different outcomes and responses to therapies. The aim of this review is to critically evaluate the use of airway biomarkers in the context of research and clinical practice.
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