November 2011

Gene Affects Response to Asthma Drugs

Some people with asthma don’t respond well to inhaled corticosteroids, a widely prescribed medicine for asthma control. Scientists have now identified a gene that may help explain why.

Asthma is a complex disease that narrows the airways in the lungs. It leads to wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing.

Since a poor response to inhaled corticosteroids often runs in families, scientists suspected that genes play a role. To learn more, researchers ran a genome-wide scan of more than 100 children with asthma and their parents. Variation in a gene called GLCCI1 seemed to be linked to a poor response to inhaled corticosteroids.

To double-check the finding, the scientists looked for variant GLCCI1 genes in over 900 additional children and adults with asthma. About 1 in 6 of these patients had 2 copies of the variant gene. Those with 2 variants were more than twice as likely to respond poorly to inhaled corticosteroids than patients with 2 regular copies of the gene.

“This finding helps to explain the genetic basis for the long-standing observation that some people don’t respond well to what is a common asthma treatment,” says Dr. Susan Shurin, acting director of NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Understanding variant genes might eventually lead to personalized asthma therapy that’s based on each patient’s genetic makeup.