Childhood asthma tied to combination of genes and wheezing illness

Carole Ober, PhD

Asthma is an extremely common disease among children: More than 7.1 million children in the United States have asthma, almost 10 percent. While nothing can prevent the onset of asthma in children, University of Chicago geneticist Dr. Carole Ober recently found that children who carry two copies of a common genetic variation and wheezed after catching a cold under the age of 3 were very likely to develop asthmas by age 6. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Ober and her colleagues showed these children were four times as likely to develop asthma as those without the variation and did not wheeze. John Easton has more in our Newsroom:

The genetic marker studied, a variation on chromosome 17, is common. Half of the children in the study had one copy and 25 percent had two. Colds caused by human rhinoviruses also are extremely common, affecting almost all infants. But the combination of genetic risk plus the wheezing response to rhinovirus infection by children under age 3 was tightly linked to the development of asthma by age 6.

“We found that the interaction between this specific wheezing illness and a gene or genes on a region of chromosome 17 determines childhood asthma risk,” said study author Carole Ober, PhD, Blum-Riese Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago. “The combination of genetic predisposition and the child’s response to this infection has a huge effect.”

The study was also featured on a segment from WGN News.

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Calışkan M, Bochkov YA, Kreiner-Møller E, Bønnelykke K, Stein MM, Du G, Bisgaard H, Jackson DJ, Gern JE, Lemanske RF Jr, Nicolae DL, & Ober C (2013). Rhinovirus Wheezing Illness and Genetic Risk of Childhood-Onset Asthma. The New England journal of medicine PMID: 23534543

About Matt Wood (503 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer at the University of Chicago Medicine and nonfiction editor for Another Chicago Magazine.
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