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Asthma pressure may shrink airways

1:31pm, October 4, 2002

From San Francisco, at the spring national meeting of the American Chemical Society

The chest tightness that an asthma patient experiences may be in part the cause of the disease as well as a symptom.

Most physicians and scientists have believed that inflammation alone causes air passages to gradually narrow in asthmatics. However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that the tightening of chest muscles during an asthma attack can trigger long-term changes in airways that constrict the passages.

"Inflammation doesn't explain the whole story," says Barbara Ressler, who is now at Genzyme Corp. in Framingham, Mass. Ressler and her colleagues at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston realized that cells lining asthma-tightened airways are under lots of mechanical stress.

The researchers examined how that stress might affect the cells in asthmatics. To simulate an asthma attack, Ressler grew airway cells from

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