Asthma Gene Detected

Asthma Gene Detected

Scientists from the University of Michigan and colleagues from London, France, and Germany have found a gene that is strongly associated with a risk of developing childhood-onset asthma. Their findings were published in the July 4 issue of Nature.

The discovery of a so-called “asthma gene” would provide a new set of mechanisms to try and modify and manage childhood asthma, said SPH associate professor Goncalo Abecasis, a co-author of the paper.

In a genetic study of more than 2,000 children, the scientists found genetic markers that dramatically increase a child’s risk for asthma. These markers are located on chromosome 17, and children who have them had higher levels of a new gene called ORMDL3 in their blood. The presence of the disease-associated version of ORMDL3 increases the risk of asthma by 60 to 70 percent, the scientists suggest.

To account for the environmental factors associated with the disease, the researchers structured their investigation to ensure that cases of childhood asthma were matched to children without disease from the same geographical areas.

The team of scientists, including Liming Liang, a doctoral student in Abecasis’s lab and co-first author on the paper, compared the genetic makeup of 994 patients with childhood-onset asthma and 1,243 non-asthmatics. They looked at genetic mutations specific to childhood asthma. The team confirmed its findings by analyzing the genetic makeup of more than 2,000 children from Germany and more than 3,000 subjects from the United Kingdom born in 1958 and monitored until now for the presence of disease.

“This is a large study involving doctors and scientists from many countries, and we are confident that we have discovered something new and exciting about childhood asthma,” said Dr. Miriam Moffatt of the National Heath and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London, and one of the first authors of the study. “We and our colleagues are currently preparing even bigger studies to find other genes of smaller effect and to relate these to environmental factors that increase asthma risk.”

Professor William Cookson, also of the National Heart and Lung Institute and coordinator of the study, said the results are the strongest genetic link yet to child-onset asthma. —Laura Bailey

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