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Poverty May Aggravate Asthma

Researchers found poor children had heightened immune-system gene activity

MONDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Lack of money may literally alter genes related to asthma, according to Canadian researchers.

The researchers studied immune system cells called T-lymphocytes in 31 children, aged 9-18, with asthma. T-cells play a role in the airway inflammation that occurs in an asthma attack.

Half the children in the study were from disadvantaged families and half from privileged families. The researchers found that genes regulating inflammatory response were more active in poorer children than in those who were from richer families. Genes with increased activity included those involved in producing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which induce stress response and wound healing. The poorer children also had more severe asthma.

The University of British Columbia researchers also identified differences in signaling related to pathways that control immune cell activity and which are targeted by asthma drugs. The children from richer families had an excess of genes that help control inflammatory responses.

The findings were published online Nov. 10 in the journal Thorax.

While the design of the study precluded definitive conclusions about cause and effect between socioeconomic status and gene/asthma activity, "...the findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the larger social environment can get 'under the skin' at the [genomic level]," the researchers said.

They also suggested that negative perceptions of a person's surroundings may alter biological mechanisms in the body.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about childhood asthma.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Thorax, news release, Nov. 10, 2008

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