Asthma-linked genes discovered at Berkeley lab

BERKELEY, CA - Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have announced the discovery of two genes that contribute to the development of asthma. The finding suggests that decreasing the activity of these two genes could help reduce susceptibility to asthma attacks.

A team led by Dr. Edward Rubin and Derek Symula of Berkeley Lab's Life Sciences Division, and including scientists from the University of California, San Francisco campus, worked with transgenic mice (mice that carry human genes) and found that even subtle changes in the activity of the interleukin genes IL4 and IL13 can have an important effect on asthma susceptibility. Their research results were reported in the October 1 issue of the journal Nature Genetics.

More than 14 million people in the United States suffer from asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments. The number of victims has doubled over the last 15 years and is still on the rise, with children living in urban areas particularly susceptible. Medical researchers have no explanation for this upsurge but it is approaching epidemic stature.

"Thousands of years ago the ancient Greeks observed that asthma ran in families," says Symula, a post-doctoral fellow who joined Rubin's research group nearly four years ago to begin an intensive hunt to identify the genetic factors. "What we knew, at the outset of our studies, was that one region of the human genome, on chromosome 5, tended to be inherited in individuals with asthma."

Rubin's group has previously developed mouse models from a variety of human conditions including Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, and atherosclerosis. For the asthma study, they eschewed the conventional approach for identifying genetic links to a specific disease.

Explains Rubin, "Rather than looking at one gene at a time, we chose to simultaneously examine several genes in parallel, by introducing 8-10 human genes at a time into

Contact: David Gilbert
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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