New Mass General Studies May Unlock Mysteries of Asthma

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What makes an asthma attack different from an allergic reaction?

Thanks to some groundbreaking technology, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital may have uncovered new clues.

They recently used an innovative new imaging tool, in combination with a new technique for investigating the allergic immune response, to determine why some individuals with allergies to airborne allergens develop asthma while others do not.

In one study, researchers demonstrated that participants with mild allergic asthma have thicker smooth muscle tissue in their airway passages than participants with allergy alone.

A companion study showed that the airways of asthmatic participants had a greater activation of a specific type of immune cell when exposed to airborne allergens.

The results suggest that a combination of contraction by these thicker layers of smooth muscle, increased inflammation due to T cell activation and the secretion of sticky mucus contribute to the breathing difficulties experienced during an asthma attacks.

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Andrew Luster, MD, PhD, Benjamin Medoff, MD, Melissa Suter, PhD, and James Moon, PhD, all made key contributions to the study.

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