Obesity changes how airway muscles function, which increases the risk of developing asthma, a new study suggests.
The prevalence of asthma and obesity—as both separate and coexisting conditions—has grown considerably in the United States in recent years. Obesity is a major risk factor for asthma, in part, because of the systemic and localized inflammation of the airways that occurs in people with a high body mass index.
People with obesity “also manifest a higher risk of severe asthma, decreased disease control, and decreased response to corticosteroids therapy,” the researchers say.
Previous studies suggest that some people with obesity may have a type of asthma that is not caused by airway inflammation, but by hyper-responsiveness—a higher-than-normal response to an allergen—in the airway smooth muscle. Hyper-responsiveness causes the airways to narrow, obstructing ease of breathing, and can occur when the muscles contract or begin to spasm.
For the new paper, which appears in the Journal of Physiology—Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, the research team combined human airway smooth muscle cells with histamine, a chemical the immune system makes in response to an allergen, and carbachol, a drug that stimulates the part of the nervous system that controls the airways.
Stimulating airway cells with these substances causes the cells to release calcium, which mimics muscle contraction. The findings show that muscle cells from obese donors released more calcium and had greater shortening—a function that occurs during muscle contraction—than the cells from normal-weight donors.
Further, the cells from female obese donors released more calcium than cells from male obese donors.
The results suggest that obesity “makes a unique and identifiable mark on the airway smooth muscle cells, which can lead to new ways to improve asthma management without the use of steroids,” says Reynold Panettieri Jr., director of the Rutgers University Institute for Translational Medicine and Science and a corresponding author of the paper.
Source: Rutgers University