A slight variation in a single gene boosts a person's likelihood of developing asthma, bronchial hyper-responsiveness and reduced lung function, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine online Thursday.
The gene variant, known as CHI3L1, causes increased blood levels of YKL-40, a biomarker for asthma, they said. And "a slightly different version of the genetic variation lowers YKL-40 levels and protects against asthma," the researchers reported.
"Although the original discovery came from a study of a genetically isolated population, the Hutterites of South Dakota, the researchers were able to confirm the same connections between the CHI3L1 variations, YKL-40 levels and asthma susceptibility in three genetically diverse Caucasian populations from Chicago; Madison, Wisconsin; and Freiberg, Germany," they added.
New insight into the role the gene plays "may have important implications in the early identification of, susceptibility to, and prevention and treatment of asthma," said Elizabeth Nabel, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
"This is exciting because it connects asthma susceptibility to a whole new pathway at the protein and the genetic levels," said study author Carole Ober, professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
"There is a good deal more we need to find out about this connection, but now we know where to look."
The printed version of the report was to appear in the April 17 issue of the Journal.