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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Mar;117(3):496-506; quiz 507.

Understanding the pathophysiology of severe asthma to generate new therapeutic opportunities.

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Division of Infection, Inflammation and Repair, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, UK.


Although asthma is defined in terms of reversibility of airflow obstruction, as the disease becomes more severe and chronic, it adopts different characteristics, including a degree of fixed airflow obstruction and corticosteroid refractoriness. Underlying these phenotypes is evidence of airway wall remodeling, which should be distinguished from the increase in smooth muscle linked to airways hyperresponsiveness. Aberrant epithelial-mesenchymal communication leads to a chronic wound scenario, which is characterized by activation of the epithelial-mesenchymal trophic unit, epithelial damage, the laying down of new matrix, and greater involvement of neutrophils in the inflammatory response. In allergic asthmatic patients who remain symptomatic despite high-dose corticosteroid therapy, blockade of IgE with omalizumab confers appreciable clinical benefit. Chronic severe asthma is also accompanied by a marked increase in TNF-alpha production that might contribute to corticosteroid refractoriness. Based on this, TNF blockade with the soluble fusion protein entanercept produces improvement in asthma symptoms, lung function, and quality of life paralleled by a marked reduction in airways hyperresponsiveness. Identification of novel susceptibility genes, such as a disintegrin and metalloprotease 33 (ADAM33), will provide further targets against which to direct novel therapies for asthma, especially at the more severe end of the disease spectrum.

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