Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered a link between asthma symptoms and the enzyme CaMKII. The enzyme, which is known to play a role in heart disease, could be the missing link required to develop an effective treatment program for the chronic respiratory condition that currently affects billions of people worldwide.

Their findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Asthma is responsible for 3,000 deaths and billions of dollars in medical costs each year. According to professor and co-corresponding author Mark Anderson, current treatment methods are confined to steroids, and generally do not work well.

"It's a kind of an epidemic without a clear, therapeutic option," he said. "The take-home message is that inhibiting CaMKII appears to be an effective anti-oxidant strategy for treating allergic asthma."

Their results linked the enzyme to pernicious oxidation effects within the respiratory tract, which give rise to the symptoms associated with asthma. Earlier research shows that CaMKII is responsible for similar biological reactions in heart muscle cells, causing heart attacks and heart disease.

Using a mouse model, the team was able to show that they could reduce the levels of oxidation by blocking the enzyme. Conversely, mice without the blocked CaMKII showed an increase of oxidized enzymes, airway muscle constriction and other respiratory symptoms.

"[The study] suggests that these airway lining cells are really important for asthma, and they're important because of the oxidative properties of CaMKII," Anderson explained. "This is completely new and could meet a hunger for new asthma treatments. Here may be a new pathway to treat asthma."

Co-corresponding author Isabella Grumbach, associate professor of internal medicine, noted that the findings also represent yet another breakthrough in a fairly recent biological field of inquiry.

"Ten years ago, not much was known about what CaMKII does outside of nerve cells and muscle cells in the heart," she said. "My lab has worked on investigating its function mainly in blood vessels with the long-term goal to use blockers of CaMKII to treat common diseases. We are constantly finding that CaMKII is interesting and important."

The next step is run trials with human patients. Eventually, the researchers hope to develop targeted treatment in the form of inhaled drugs.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asthma affects 8.5 percent of the U.S population. Symptoms like coughing and wheezing manifest during asthma attacks, which are triggered by internal and external lung irritants.


P. N. Sanders, O. M. Koval, O. A. Jaffer, A. M. Prasad, T. R. Businga, J. A. Scott, P. J. Hayden, E. D. Luczak, D. D. Dickey, C. Allamargot, A. K. Olivier, D. K. Meyerholz, A. J. Robison, D. G. Winder, T. S. Blackwell, R. Dworski, D. Sammut, B. A. Wagner, G. R. Buettner, R. M. Pope, F. J. Miller, M. E. Dibbern, H. M. Haitchi, P. J. Mohler, P. H. Howarth, J. Zabner, J. N. Kline, I. M. Grumbach, M. E. Anderson, "CaMKII Is Essential for the Proasthmatic Effects of Oxidation." Sci. Transl. Med. 5, 195ra97 (2013).