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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Genetics and Pollution Drive Severity of Asthma Symptoms

A girl using an asthma inhaler on the soccer field.

A study finds that asthma patients with a specific genetic profile exhibit more intense symptoms after exposure to traffic pollution.

Photo: LSOphoto/iStock

Asthma patients with a specific genetic profile exhibit more intense symptoms following exposure to traffic pollution, according to researchers at NIEHS and collaborators. The study appeared online in Scientific Reports.

The research team, made up of scientists at NIEHS and Rice University, also found that asthma patients who lack this genetic profile do not have the same sensitivity to traffic pollution and do not experience worse asthma symptoms. The work brings scientists closer to being able to use precision medicine, an emerging field that intends to prevent and treat disease based on factors specific to an individual.

Co-lead author Dr. Shepherd Schurman of NIEHS said the results are based on genetic variation, the subtle differences in DNA that make each person unique. He further added that to understand the concept, one should think of human genes, which are made up of DNA base pairs A, C, G and T, as written instructions for making proteins.

“All humans have the same genes, in other words the same basic instructions, but in some people one DNA base pair has been changed,” Schurman said. “This common type of genetic variation is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP, and it can alter the way proteins are made and make individuals more or less prone to illness.”

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