Study Shows Enzyme’s Role in Asthma
An enzyme that scientists recently found “kicks off” the chain of events leading to asthmatic symptoms may soon be a target for drug intervention.

To learn how the enzyme, arginase, worked in human asthma, scientists analyzed fluid and tissue samples from the lungs of asthmatic people and from nonasthmatic control subjects. No arginase was detected in the control samples, but significant amounts were found in the lungs of the people with asthma.

Since the research indicated that arginase played a crucial role in asthma attacks, lead researcher Marc E. Rothenberg, MD, PhD, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said in a statement that scientists may now pursue developing antiasthma drugs that block the enzyme’s activity.

Previously, arginase was thought to be limited primarily to the liver, where it helps process the amino acid arginine.

“We’ve learned that arginase is involved in asthma regardless of the specific allergen used to induce the attack,” Rothenberg said.

The discovery of the role of arginase came as part of a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-funded study in which scientists uncovered a cluster of 291 genes linked to asthma.

The researchers induced asthma in mice and then analyzed lung tissue with gene chips to see which genes were most active following the attacks.

The large number of genes involved in asthma—more than 6% of the mouse genome—came as some surprise, said lead authors Nives Zimmerman, MD, and Nina King, PhD. The findings were published in the June 15 Journal of Clinical Investigation.

NIAID Offers “SARS Chip” for Free
To spur research on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in June established a way for researchers to rapidly detect tiny genetic variations among different SARS virus strains. NIAID purchased several hundred SARS microarrays—essentially a reference strain of the SARS coronavirus embedded in a quartz chip—and will distribute the arrays at no cost to qualified researchers worldwide. The program is the result of an alliance of government, not-for-profit, and industry partners. Distribution will be coordinated by the NIAID’s Pathogen Functional Genomics Resource Center (PFGRC). Any researcher can request the SARS array using a Web-based application process.

Parent Reports of Asthma Misalign with Reality
Dependence on parental reports of asthma may underestimate the prevalence of the disease, a recent study from the University of California, San Francisco, says.

When Eric M. Roberts, MD, PhD, analyzed the 1996–1997 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, he found that asthma medications were purchased for 2.5% of children. However, parents of 45.4% of those children failed to report asthma, including 41.3% of those for whom maintenance medications were purchased. Poor children were more likely to have maintenance medications prescribed but no reported asthma cases. Roberts notes that his study may reveal an inability of some parents to perceive their children’s disease as a serious problem, despite the purchase of medications.

Women Benefit More from Smoking Cessation
When National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute researchers began the Lung Health Study, they might have thought that men and women were equal. However, the findings from their multicenter clinical trial revealed that women’s lung function improved more than twice as much as men’s within the first year of quitting smoking. The researchers monitored for 5 years more than 5,300 middle-aged smokers who had a history of mild or moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study data appeared in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

RXS Reduce ED Trips
A new study shows that children with prescriptions for one or more asthma drugs visit the emergency department (ED) for lung disease less frequently than those who do not have prescriptions.

On May 6, World Asthma Day, University of Michigan pediatric researchers presented the results of their asthma study at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Seattle. Conducted in 2001, the study analyzed more than 19,000 children in Michigan’s Medicaid program who had at least one inpatient, outpatient, or emergency visit for asthma in that year.

The researchers, led by Kevin J. Dombkowski, DrPH, also discovered that the regularity of some children’s asthma-related ED visits linked significantly to the patients’ race and location. Black children visited the ED more than twice as often as white children in the study, and urban children visited 42% more than nonurban children.

The authors conceded that it was not known whether the children with prescriptions actually used the drugs correctly or even if the prescriptions were filled. However, the researchers will expound on the study this summer by examining the relationships between medication use and ED visit rates.