An enzyme called CaMKII is linked to the harmful effects of oxidation in the respiratory tract, triggering asthmatic symptoms, according to a new study published in Science Transitional Medicine. Researchers believe the discovery may be a promising target to treat asthma.

Building on their previous work that showed the CaMKII enzyme played a role in the oxidation of heart muscle cells, investigators tested the enzyme in airway muscle cells, but to little effect.

Blocking the enzyme in epithelial cells, however, proved fruitful. Mice with the blocked enzyme had less oxidized CaMKII, no airway muscle constriction and no asthma symptoms. Similarly, mice without the blocked enzyme showed high “oxidative stress,” a constricted airway and asthma symptoms.

“[The study] suggests that these airway lining cells are really important for asthma, and they’re important because of the oxidative properties of CaMKII,” said Mark Anderson, professor and chair in internal medicine at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and a co-corresponding author on the paper. “This is completely new and could meet a hunger for new asthma treatments. Here may be a new pathway to treat asthma.”