Genes, wheezing with a cold linked kids' asthma: What can parents do?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Wheezing with a cold and certain genes raise asthma risk for kids.
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A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) highlights a four-fold risk of asthma among children with two gene variations and wheezing from a cold caught early in life. The finding, published in the journal yesterday, suggests genes and history of wheezing can boost the chances of childhood asthma by age 6.

What can parents do?

The finding is interesting, but researchers say there is not much parents can do to prevent colds, with the exception of working with a pediatrician to find ways to stop wheezing for kids known to have the asthma genotype, which is common.

The study authors pinpointed a variation on a region of chromosome 17, referred to as 17q2 that the researchers says trumps any other genetic risk for asthma, combined with the way the genes interact with infection from the cold virus or common human rhinovirus (HRV).

Genes may affect ability of lungs to repair

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The biggest gene suspect for asthma was ORMDL3. The authors suspect ORMDL3 might promote viral replication in lung epithelial cells; increasing the severity of respiratory infection.

“Upregulation of this gene may lessen these cells’ ability to repair the airway after an HRV infection, a feature associated with asthma. Our next project is to look more closely at this process in airway epithelial cells,” according to the study’s first author, Minal Çalışkan.

Study author Carole Ober, PhD, Blum-Riese Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago said in a press release, “The combination of genetic predisposition and the child’s response to this infection has a huge effect.”

Approximately 25 percent of children who had no wheezing from a cold developed asthma after the researchers took into account other factors. The rate increased to 60 percent for those with one copy of the asthma related gene and 90 percent with two copies. Without the variation, only 40 percent of kids who contracted the human rhinovirus developed asthma that had wheezing in the first 3-years of life. Just 25 percent of children who had no wheezing from HRV developed asthma.

Researchers are not sure exactly how the genes interact with the cold virus to lead to asthma. They also note you cannot really prevent kids from getting a cold.

Source:
NEJM
March 28, 2013

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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