Asthma and allergy share genetic risk factors


By Mardi Chapman

1 Nov 2017

Australian led research has identified hundreds of genetic risk factors shared between patients with asthma, hay fever and eczema.

The research, published in Nature Genetics, analysed the genomes of more than 360,000 people across seven countries. It compared people with at least one of the three allergic conditions with people who had never had asthma, hay fever or eczema.

The study found 136 independent risk variants, which implicated 132 specific genes in the pathophysiology of allergic disease.

Lead author Dr Manuel Ferreira, from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, told the limbic most of the genes had not previously been known to play a role in allergies.

“Some genes are already on people’s radar, for example the filaggrin gene known to be involved in eczema. However some new ones are very exciting because our main goal is to find novel drug targets.”

“We want to help develop new drugs, potentially drugs that can be used on all three conditions not just one, and we think having a wide range of genes to study is good.”

The study reported that a number of the target genes already had drugs in development for indications other than allergic diseases.

For example, the chemokine receptor gene CCR7 was already the target for about five drugs in development for indications including cancer.

“It opens up the possibility of using genomic data to reposition drugs in development or already approved for other indications. These are the more immediate opportunities for translation,” Dr Ferreira said.

“That still leaves lots of genes with no drugs available and for which not much is known but we can prioritise. For example, exposed receptors on immune cell surfaces are easier to target so we can cherry pick.”

“We can also use the results from our genetic findings to predict if a drug will attenuate symptoms or exacerbate symptoms,” he said.

The study also found a significant association between smoking and the methylation state of PITPNM2, a PYK2-binding protein potentially involved in neutrophil function.

They concluded the results raise the possibility that environmental factors such as smoking might influence allergic disease risk through modulation of target gene methylation.

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