Scientists believe they have discovered a key component in the development of chronic asthma, pointing the way to new treatments.
As asthma progresses, the airways are changed or remodelled and become more muscular and reactive to allergens.
Critical to this process is a cellular pump in the muscles called SERCA2, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
Ultimately drugs acting on SERCA2 might stop lung damage, the UK experts hope.
Professor Tak Lee, of King’s College London, who led the research, said: "It is widely believed that this remodelling in asthma is in large part responsible for the chronicity of the disease.
"There are many features responsible for remodelling but a key component of this process involves an increased amount of smooth muscle in the airways."
His team, working with colleagues at Imperial College London, discovered that in people with moderate asthma SERCA2 levels within the airway muscle cells were reduced.
"This research into the causes of asthma provides us with vital clues as to how such symptoms could be stopped…"
Dr Elaine Vickers of Asthma UK
It is SERCA2’s job to pump calcium out of the muscle cells to enable the muscles to relax.
The researchers believe the relative lack of SERCA2 plays an important role in causing asthma symptoms.
Indeed, they found that if they removed SERCA2 from the cells of healthy people who didn’t have asthma these cells started to behave more like asthma cells.
Professor Lee suggests that replacing SERCA2 in the airway muscle cells might be an effective way of creating new asthma treatments to reduce asthma symptoms and prevent the irreversible long term lung changes which can make some people’s asthma almost impossible to control.
Dr Elaine Vickers, of Asthma UK, said: "This research into the causes of asthma provides us with vital clues as to how such symptoms could be stopped and it has uncovered important information, which we hope will lead to the creation of effective new treatments for the millions of people in the UK affected by asthma symptoms."</p
This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.