Genomic study breathes new life into asthma research

Research published in this month's Genome Biology has identified 149 genes that may be involved in the development of asthma. This research, the first of its kind, is exciting, as 52 of these genes were previously unknown. Further analysis of these genes could give us an improved understanding of the underlying genetic causes of asthma.

Asthma is a serious medical condition, affecting over 100 million people worldwide and killing approximately 5000 people each year in the USA alone. It is a complex disease caused by a combination of a large number of genes plus environmental factors such as dust and pollen which can trigger bouts of asthma.

A research team from the Schering-Plough Research Institute in New Jersey, are the first to produce a profile of the genes expressed during a simulated asthma attack in the Philippine cynomolgus monkey. This species has been used as a model organism to study asthma because it has a natural sensitivity to the nematode worm, Ascaris suum. When an cynomolgus monkey inhales an extract of the nematode, it triggers the characteristic constriction of the airways that is associated with asthma.

The authors used microarray technology to analyse how gene expression changes during simulated asthma attacks. Microarrays are DNA-coated microchips that allow researchers to look at a large number of genes at one time. The microchips, coated with approximately 40,000 human genes, were exposed to genetic material from lung tissue samples taken from both sick and healthy monkeys. Using this technology, the researchers found a total of 149 genes that were turned "on" or "off" in the lungs of monkeys with constricted airways, of which 52 were previously unidentified.

The authors recognise that asthma in humans may differ from the response of monkeys to the nematode extract, but they are confident that, "The gene expression profile in this non-human primate model could provide useful insights into the genes regulate

Contact: Gordon Fletcher
BioMed Central

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