Many patients with allergic asthma are all too familiar with the common household pests known as dust mites, as they have long been cited as a trigger for asthma attacks. Exactly how dust mites elicit the attacks has remained elusive until recent research revealed that the dust mites trick the immune system into believing that it is facing a bacterial infection. This misinformation causes the immune system to mount a strong allergic response to the mites, which can trigger asthma attacks.

“Although dust mites are known to trigger asthma attacks, until now we did not know why the allergic response to the mites was so strong,” says Dean Smith, executive director of the American Asthma Foundation, which funded the research.

The study is published in the online edition of Nature.