Researchers at the University of Dundee, who last year identified the gene that causes eczema and associated forms of asthma, have now discovered that defects on the same gene can make young asthmatics three to six times more likely to have to reach out for their inhaler every day. The Dundee team announced last year that they had identified a gene that produces the protein filaggrin, which is normally found in large quantities in the outermost layers of the skin and is essential in providing a protective layer which keeps water in and foreign organisms out. In people with filaggrin mutations, foreign substances can easily enter the skin and be seen by the immune system. This explains the development of inflamed skin (eczema). In some people, priming of the immune system through the “leaky” skin can lead to asthma when foreign substances later enter the lungs. “Our findings show that these gene defects that affect the skin barrier which filaggrin provides has a significant effect on day-to-day asthma morbidity and medication use,” said Dr Somnath Mukhopadhyay. “If these genetic skin barrier defects directly exacerbate asthma, young asthma sufferers who show these barrier defects may respond better to allergen withdrawal strategies, which would lead to a significant long-term reduction in asthma medication requirements.” The need for controller and reliever medicines drives the lifestyles of millions of young asthmatics in the UK and abroad, many of whom have to use their `blue inhaler’, the commonest ‘reliever’ asthma medicine, combined with top-up ‘controller’ asthma treatments.