Image of researcher.An over-active gene linked in 20 to 30% of patients with childhood asthma interrupts the synthesis of lipid molecules called sphingolipids that are part of cell membranes found all over the body, according to study results in Science Translational Medicine.

A team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, Columbia University Medical Center and SUNY Downstate Medical Center believe this gene to be the root of a common type of childhood asthma, demonstrating that it is very different from other asthma cases.

Though they do not yet understand why asthma results from reduced production of sphingolipids, their experiments clearly show a link between loss of these lipids and bronchial hyperreactivity, a key feature of asthma.

“Our model shows that asthma can result from having too little of a type of sphingolipids. This is a completely new pathway for asthma pathogenesis,” said the study’s senior author, Stefan Worgall, PhD, MD, chief of the Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy and Immunology Division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“Our findings are not only valuable in understanding the pathogenesis of this complex disease, but provide a basis to develop novel therapies, especially asthma agents based on a patient’s genotype.