Gene Variant Acts as Shield

Published Online: Saturday, January 1, 2005

A study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (October 21, 2004), showed that individuals with a form of a particular gene might be protected from developing asthma. Individuals missing this particular gene variant have increased odds of developing the breathing disorder. Prostaglandin is one of the chemicals that cause inflammation and contribute to the narrowing of the airways during an asthma episode. Prostaglandin needs a receptor, PTGDR, to work. The gene in question has this receptor.

The study examined variants in genes of 518 Caucasian patients and 80 African Americans. The data were then compared with information from 175 Caucasian and 45 African American individuals without asthma. The researchers discovered that the participants with asthma were only about half as likely to have the gene variant.

"If you have this protective form of the gene, you have half the asthma risk," said study author Craig M. Lilly, MD. He added that drugs to block the receptor are getting ready to enter clinical trials. "They were developed for asthma and allergic rhinitis and are just being tested in humans. These drugs block prostaglandin D2, which is one of the substances that narrows the airways in acute asthma."

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