A ticket to the airways: scientists develop new way to study asthma

When visiting the doctor about a case of asthma, few people wish to spare more than a few lung cells for analysis. But such tiny samples are useless for the latest genome-analysis techniques, such as gene chips.

This month in Genome Research, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco unveil a new technique for reading a 'gene activity profile' in samples as small as 1-100 cells.

Applying the technique to airway biopsies from asthma patients reveals a new disease suspect, the NKCC1 gene, which has not previously been associated with asthma.

Gregory Dolganov and colleagues based their two-step technique on a sensitive process for counting DNA molecules called real-time PCR.

Combining this with another PCR-based process, they developed an approach that quickly measures multiple gene activities in small clinical samples that are ineligible for gene chip analysis.

Using this technique, the researchers evaluated 75 genes in airway biopsy samples taken from human patients.

The results support current hypotheses about asthma mechanisms but also point an unexpected gene, NKCC1, which greatly increases activity in asthma patients.

Dolganov and colleagues speculate that NKCC1, which acts to shuttle essential ions in and out of cells, might play a role in excess mucus secretion in asthma.


Contact: Peggy Calicchia/Emily Huang
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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