Ozone Wheezing's Cause, New Treatments Found
Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Duke University have found a clue that may help people who wheeze and cough, short of breath, after exposure to ozone, which is a common urban air pollutant. Using an animal model, the researchers identified ways to stop airways in the lungs from narrowing.
"We found that it is not the ozone itself that causes the body to wheeze, but the way the lungs respond to ozone," said Stavros Garantziotis, M.D., principal investigator in the NIEHS Laboratory of Respiratory Biology and lead author of the paper published online this week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. NIH, the parent agency of NIEHS, posted an article about the findings on Feb. 3.
"Animals exposed to ozone produced and released high amounts of a sugar known as hyaluronan," said John Hollingsworth, M.D., a pulmonologist who is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center and senior author of the paper. "We found hyaluronan to be directly responsible for causing the airways to narrow and become irritated. We believe this may contribute to asthma symptoms in humans, as well." Besides finding proteins that can ease the hyaluronan effect, they could block airway responsiveness by binding the native hyaluronan away and by administering a slightly modified form of hyaluronan. "Although more research is needed before these findings can be translated to humans, we are optimistic these treatment options could prove beneficial to patients," said Hollingsworth.
The researchers said about 4,500 U.S. hospital admissions and 900,000 school absences each year are caused by ozone exposure.
"This collaborative effort exemplifies the powerful advances we can continue to make to improve human health by teaming the innovativeness of our in-house researchers with our grantees," said Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS director. "This is also a good example of how NIEHS is helping to bring a pool of creative, talented young scientists to the field of environmental health sciences."