Patients with asthma who wheeze andgasp for breath under emotional stress canfault parts of their brain. During the study, 6participants with mild allergic asthma wereexposed to 2 different substances, one thatcaused muscle constriction and a second thatcaused inflammation.
At the 1-and 4-hour marks of exposure,the participants had a magnetic resonanceimaging (MRI) scan to document the brain'sactivity during the muscle-constriction stageand then at the inflammation stage of theattack. During the MRI, the participants wereasked to read words displayed on a screen.Some of the words were emotionally neutral,some were likely to trigger negative emotions,and some were specifically associated withasthma attacks.
The results of the study showed that brainactivity early on in the muscle-contracting phaseof a breathing attack differed from that in the latter,inflammatory phase. Furthermore, wordsspecifically associated with asthma attackscaused heightened activity in the inflammatoryphase in areas of the brain that control emotions.This same reaction was not apparentwhen the patients were shown neutral or negativewords, according to the study results reportedin the Proceedings of the National Academyof Sciences (September 13, 2005).