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Asthma gene offers hope

Thursday December 24th, 2009

Scientists have found a new gene, which may open up a range of new treatments for childhood asthma, it was announced last night.

The gene is thought to play a key role in the over-reaction of the immune system that causes asthma.

The findings, reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, come from studies of nearly 9,000 children of both European and African origin.

Campaigners said the finding created "exciting" prospects for new treatments to control immune system over-reaction.

Leanne Metcalf, of Asthma UK, said: "This large scale and well designed study has shed more light on the link between genetics and the overreaction of the immune system which is responsible for asthma symptoms, and opens up an exciting potential avenue for new treatments for the 1.1m children in the UK with asthma.

"It is essential to remember, however, that genetics forms only one part of a much bigger picture, so further research is needed to understand exactly how genetic and environmental factors influence asthma."

The researchers, led by Dr Hakon Hakonarson, of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, reports finding the gene on chromosome 1. It is linked to asthma that begins in childhood and is moderate to severe.

It emerged after a scan of the whole set of human genes, comparing genes in children with asthma and those in children without. The gene is known as DENND1B and was already thought to play a role in the immune system.

Dr Hakonarson said: "In asthma, patients have an inappropriate immune response in which they develop airway inflammation and overreaction of the airway muscle cells, referred to as airway hyper-responsiveness.

"The gene mutations in DENND1B appear to lead to overproduction of cytokines that subsequently drive this oversensitive response in asthma patients."

He added: "Other asthma-related genes remain to be discovered, but finding a way to target this common gene variant could benefit large numbers of children."

New England Journal of Medicine on-line December 24 2009

Tags: Allergies & Asthma | Child Health | North America | UK News

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