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Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the respiratory system that affects approximately 22 million people in US. It has been classified as a complex genetic condition that is determined by the interaction of numerous genes along with environmental factors.
Asthma can be characterized by hyper-reactivity of the airways and the propensity of airways to constrict in response to various stimuli. This leads to symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightening, coughing and wheezing. Triggers of asthma 'attacks' include common colds, exercise, allergens (irritants such as smoke, fumes and dust, along with pollutants).
Cytokine signaling contributes greatly to asthma and the associated airway obstruction. Cytokines such as IL-4 cause the secretion of mucus and the onset of allergic inflammatory responses including the development of T helper cells. There are also numerous structural changes that occur in asthmatic airways and collectively lead to 'remodeling'. These include deposition of matrix proteoglycan and collagen in the submucosa, epithelial mucus metaplasia and a proliferation of microvessels and nerves.
Treatment for asthma includes bronchodilator therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly corticosteroid inhalation. Corticosteroids act by blocking the immune reaction to an allergen, decreasing inflammation by inhibiting cells such as mast cells, eosinophils and basophils.