In a study done by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison had reported that specific brain circuits are responsible for disorders that are affected by stress, like asthma.
The study, which appears in the latest online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals a functional link between emotion processing centers in the brain and certain physiological processes relevant to disease.
The data suggest potential future targets for the development of drugs and behavioral interventions to control asthma and other stress-responsive disorders, said the researchers.
Previous studies and clinical evidence have shown that stress and emotional turmoil adversely affect people with inflammatory diseases like asthma. And signs of inflammation have been shown to affect the brain. It was not known exactly what brain circuits were involved in these seemingly intertwined emotional and immune events or how the circuits might influence the severity of an acute asthma response.
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of six mildly asthmatic people who were asked to inhale ragweed or dust-mite extracts. Subjects were then shown three types of words: asthma-related (such as "wheeze"), non-asthma negative (such as "loneliness") and neutral (such as "curtains"). Shortly after, researchers measured lung function in the subjects as well as molecular signs of inflammation in their sputum.
The fMRI scans revealed that the asthma-related words stimulated robust responses in two brain regions--the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula--that were strongly correlated with measures of lung function and inflammation. The other types of words were not strongly associated with lung function or inflammation.
The researchers suspect that other brain regions may also be involved in the asthma-stress interaction.