J.Kim, takes medicine for his bronchial trouble at his house in Beijing November 2, 2014. J.Kim, who is Korean, has worked in China for more than ten years and suffers from rhinitis and asthma. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

University of Southampton scientists have discovered a novel and potential way to prevent asthma at the very origin of the disease. The findings can challenge the current understanding of the condition. Scientists analysed the impact of gene ADAM33, which is associated with the development of asthma.

The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) Insight, stated that ADAM33 is responsible for making an enzyme that is attached to cells in the airway muscles. The moment the enzyme loses its anchor to the cell surface, it becomes prone to going rogue around the lung. This in turn causes poor lung function in people with asthma.

Switching off ADAM33 prevents it from going rogue, said the scientists. Then the asthma feature such as inflammation, twitchiness and airway remodelling may be reduced.

“This finding radically alters our understanding of the field, to say the least. For years we have thought that airway remodelling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, but our research tells us otherwise,” Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton, Hans Michel Haitchi, said in a statement.

The scientists found that the gene leads to development of more blood vessels and muscles on its own around the airways of developing lungs. This does not cause problems though. However, when a house dust mite allergen was introduced, airway remodelling and allergic airway inflammation were more significantly enhanced.

Another study where remodelling of the airway was shown in mice that had ADAM33 switched on from in utero, airway remodelling was completely reversed when ADAM33 was switched off. The scientists also studied the impact of house dust mite allergen on mice having asthma features but had the ADAM33 gene removed.

It was observed that mice that had their rogue gene removed, airway remodelling and twitchiness as well as airway inflammation rates were significantly reduced by 50 percent and 35 percent respectively.