Signaling Stress in Asthma

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Science  21 Apr 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5772, pp. 339
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5772.339c

That stress worsens childhood asthma seems paradoxical. Stress promotes the secretion of cortisol (which diminishes airway inflammation) and epinephrine (which acts as a bronchodilator); these chemicals should alleviate asthmatic symptoms. Miller and Chen studied the relationship between life stress and expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and the β2-adrenergic receptor (β2AR). They administered a stress assessment interview to 38 healthy children and 39 who had been diagnosed with asthma, and quantified the expression of the GR and the β2AR in leukocytes in blood samples. Although the levels of β2AR and GR mRNA were greater in children with asthma, chronic stress was associated with a decrease in the abundance of β2AR mRNA in asthmatic children and an increase in β2AR abundance in healthy children. No effect of chronic stress alone on GR was apparent, and isolated major life events (acute stressors) within the past 3 or 6 months failed to affect the expression of either the β2AR or the GR. However, major life events that occurred in the context of chronic stress exacerbated the effects of chronic stress on the β2AR and uncovered a decrease in GR expression in asthmatic children. Thus, the effects of stress on β2AR and GR expression were in a direction consistent with decreased sensitivity to glucocorticoids and β2-adrenergic agonists, which could have implications for the clinical management of asthmatic children. — EMA

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 5496 (2006).

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