Brain Activity May Play Role in Asthma
Words Like 'Wheeze' May Affect Brain During Asthma Attack
WebMD News Archive
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
"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
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
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.
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.