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Defensive Protein Linked to Asthma
Date:11/14/2007

Researchers suspect it may cause airway inflammation,,,,

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A protein that may have originally evolved to help protect the airways now appears to be a biomarker that indicates severe asthma. And it may also play a role in the development of asthma, according to new research.

Reporting in the Nov. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Yale University researchers said that people with severe asthma were more likely to have elevated levels of the protein known as YKL-40 in their blood compared to people without asthma.

"We believe that it's a marker of the inflammatory response associated with asthma," said the study's lead author, Dr. Geoffrey Chupp, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. And, he added, "These new novel family of molecules could be very important in asthma pathogenesis. Down the road, there could be new treatments and new ways to characterize asthma."

YKL-40 is what's known as a chitinase-like protein. It attaches itself to chitin, an abundant substance found in fungi, crustaceans and in insects like dust mites and cockroaches. It's also present in the pharynx and eggs of parasitic worms called helminths. Infection with helminths used to be common but is now rare in developed countries, according to the author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal, Dr. Burton Dickey, chairman of pulmonary medicine at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. These worms migrate through the skin into the bloodstream and travel through the lungs to get into the gastrointestinal tract, he said.

Humans don't manufacture chitin but do produce chitinases (enzymes that break down chitin) and chitinase-like enzymes (enzymes that bind to chitin, but don't break it down). The presence of chitin in the lungs may make the body believe that it has a helminth infection that it needs to defend against, Dickey sai
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Defensive Protein Linked to Asthma
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