Chloride Channel Study Offers New Hope for Asthma Sufferers

A new study that identifies ways to reduce the factors that lead to an asthma attack gives hope to asthma sufferers. A University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) researcher and his colleagues believe they have found a way to help asthma sufferers by impeding the two most significant biological responses that lead to an asthma attack. Asthma, a respiratory disorder that causes shortness of breath, coughing, and chest discomfort, results from changes in the airways that lead to the lungs. It affects 18.7 million adults and 7.0 million children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a paper published online on September 17, 2012 in the PNAS, researchers from UCSF, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University demonstrate that a specific calcium-activated chloride channel holds valuable clues to reducing two biological processes that contribute to the severity of asthma. These channels regulate airway secretions and smooth muscle contraction, the two major factors that lead to an asthma attack. "Maybe if we could inhibit both of these processes by blocking this one channel, then we could affect the two symptoms of asthma," said senior author Jason Rock, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Anatomy. Normally, humans have few mucus-producing cells but asthma sufferers have an elevated number of these cells in the lining of the tubes that lead to the lungs. Asthmatics also have an abnormal amount of smooth muscle surrounding the airway tubes. Even the slightest stimulus can cause these to contract. "The overabundance of mucus plugging the airways combined with hyper-contractility of the smooth muscle – when the tubes get really small – make it difficult to move air in or out," Dr. Rock said. "A lot of people equate that with breathing through a straw." Dr.
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