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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 23:09 GMT 00:09 UK
Genetic clue to asthma
One in eight children are treated for asthma
One in eight children are treated for asthma
Genes could play more of a part in asthma than previously thought.

A study found that identical twins were more similar in their rates of asthma than the non-identical pairs.

The research, from the Institute of Psychiatry, London, suggests genetic factors are more important than environmental factors, such as air pollution in regard to asthma rates.

The UK, Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of asthma in the world - between 17 and 30% of the population are affected.


We appear to be in the hands of both nature and nurture

Spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign

The study looked at the health of 4,910 four-year-old twins from England and Wales.

All were born between 1994 and 1995.

Asthma treatment

Parents were asked what treatment their children had been given for asthma and whether they were identical or non-identical twins.

Researchers then applied statistical analysis techniques to estimate the degree to which asthma may have been inherited by the children.

Identical, or monozygotic, twins share all their genetic make-up, but non-identical twins, or dizygotic, share only half.

Researchers say this means that if identical twins are more similar in their rates of asthma, genetic factors are at work.

The study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, found pairs of identical twins and did have more similar reported rates of asthma than non-identical twin pairs.

Genes accounted for the largest share of asthma prevalence at 68%.

Exposure to the same environmental allergens accounted for just 13%, while different environmental exposure accounted for 19%.

The authors plan to follow up the study by revisiting the children, now seven, to see if they are still affected by asthma, or childhood wheezing.

Writing in the journal, the authors said: "The genetic contribution to asthma is likely to be polygenic, with many distinct genes contributing to susceptibility.

Gesina Koeppen-Schomerus, of the Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, worked on the research and told BBC News Online this was the first time asthma had been studied in twins so young.

She said the findings could lead to work on which genes are linked to asthma.

Ms Koeppen-Schomerus added: "Hopefully it will be possible to identify certain environmental factors.

"If we can identify populations who are at risk or vulnerable to these environments, it may be possible to change those environmental factors."

'Nature and nurture'

A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign said: "More research is needed in this area for us to know what causes asthma.

"So far genetic studies have revealed that asthma is a complex condition."

She added: "We know that genes play a part in predisposing someone to developing asthma and we also know that there isn't a single 'asthma gene'.

"Instead the combined effects of several genes add up to produce a susceptibility to asthma.

"Other research has suggested that the chances of developing asthma are not solely due to our genetic make-up.

"We appear to be in the hands of both nature and nurture because environmental factors - such as our home environment, the food we eat and our lifestyle - have been shown to play a part in the development of asthma."

See also:

11 Sep 01 | Health
Asthma rate 'soars'
01 Oct 01 | Health
Parenting link to asthma
05 Jul 01 | Health
Number of twins on increase
25 Sep 01 | Health
Passive smoking 'causes asthma'
15 Sep 00 | Health
Stress 'makes child asthma worse'
18 Oct 01 | Health
Many of us were once a twin
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