Discovery of origins of a form of asthma may lead to a personalized therapeutic approach

May 30, 2013

Little is known about why asthma develops, how it constricts the airway, or why response to treatments varies among patients. Now, a team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, Columbia University Medical Center, and SUNY Downstate Medical Center has revealed the roots of a common type of childhood asthma, showing that it is very different from other asthma cases. It is not related to allergens or inflammation.

Their report, published recently in Science Translational Medicine, reveals that an overactive gene linked in 20% to 30% of patients with childhood asthma interrupts the synthesis of lipid molecules (known as sphingolipids) that are part of cell membranes found all over the body.

Although researchers do not yet understand why asthma results from reduced production of sphingolipids, their experiments clearly show a link between loss of these lipids and bronchial hyperreactivity, a key feature of asthma.

“Usually asthma is thought to be an inflammatory disease or a reaction to an allergen. Our model shows that asthma can result from having too little of a type of sphingolipids. This is a completely new pathway for asthma pathogenesis,” says senior author Stefan Worgall, MD, PhD. “Our findings are not only valuable in understanding the pathogenesis of this complex disease, but provide a basis to develop novel therapies, especially asthma agents based on a patient's genotype.” Read the abstract of the study.