Skip to content

    Asthma Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Brain Activity May Play Role in Asthma

    Words Like 'Wheeze' May Affect Brain During Asthma Attack
    By
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Aug. 29, 2005 -- When an asthma attack occurs, words like "wheeze" may boost brain activity linked to inflammation, scientists report.

    They write that their small study may offer new clues about inflammatory conditions like asthma and could lead to new treatments.

    "The data suggest potential future targets for the development of drugs and behavioral interventions to control asthma and other stress-responsive disorders," says researcher Richard Davidson, PhD, in a news release.

    Davidson is a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He directs the university's Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior.

    The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Stress-Asthma Link

    "Asthma, like many inflammatory disorders, is affected by psychological stress," write the researchers. But tracing emotions' route through the brain has been tricky.

    Davidson's study included six people with mild allergic asthma. According to the American Academy of Asthma Allergy & Immunology, mild persistent asthmatics have symptoms more than twice a week, but less than once a day. Mild intermittent asthmatics have symptoms no more than twice a week.

    Participants inhaled extracts of dust mites or ragweed for the study.

    Meanwhile, participants' lung function was monitored using special breathing tests. Their brains were also scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

    As their asthma kicked into gear, participants viewed words on a computer screen. Some words, like "wheeze," were related to asthma. Others, such as "loneliness," were negative but not specifically about asthma. Neutral words, such as "curtains," were also shown.

    Brain-Body Link

    When the asthma-related words were shown, three things happened:

    • Two brain areas showed increased activity.
    • Lung function worsened during breathing tests.
    • Inflammation increased.

    Negative or neutral words didn't show the same pattern.

    The two brain regions are involved in monitoring the body's internal state and processing emotions.

    In asthmatics, the two brain regions may be hyper-responsive to emotional and physiological signals, like inflammation, which may in turn influence the severity of symptoms, says Davidson.

    "While this study was small, it shows how important specific brain circuits can be in modulating inflammation," says Davidson.

    However, with such a small study it is difficult to weigh the impact of the findings, the researchers write. Larger studies are necessary in order to place any significant impact on the findings.

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

    Start Now

    Today on WebMD

    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    5 common triggers.
    group jogging in park
    Should you avoid fitness activities?
     
    asthma inhaler
    Learn about your options.
    man feeling faint
    What’s the difference?
     
    Madison Wisconsin Capitol
    Slideshow
    woman wearing cpap mask
    Article
     
    red wine pouring into glass
    Slideshow
    Woman holding inhaler
    Quiz
     
    Man outdoors coughing
    Article
    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    Article
     
    10 Worst Asthma Cities
    Slideshow
    runner
    Article