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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 04:01 GMT 05:01 UK
Gene raises passive smoking risk
Image of an asthmatic girl using an inhaler
Gene may explain why some children are at higher risk
Scientists say they have found a gene defect that increases a child's risk of developing asthma when exposed to passive smoking.

Dr Michael Kabesch and colleagues at Children's University Hospital, in Munich, looked at 3,000 schoolchildren.

Those with smoking parents and defects in a gene whose product is responsible for detoxifying smoke from the body were more likely to be asthmatic than other children.

The findings appear in the journal Thorax.

The gene they looked at makes a protein called glutathione S transferase, or GST.

Second hand smoke is a serious health hazard for children, however this study suggests that some children may be at greater risk due to their genetic make-up
Matthew Hallsworth, Asthma UK

One of GST's jobs is to rid the body of toxins made when we breathe in cigarette smoke.

Dr Kabesh's team found that among children with a specific defect to the GST gene, those whose parents were active smokers were more likely to have respiratory problems than children whose parents did not smoke.

They were five times more likely to have asthma, five times more likely to wheeze and nine times more likely to be short of breath.

Risky genes

Children with another mutation to the GST gene had similar passive-smoking-related lung problems.

Those whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy had worse lung function than children with the genetic mutation whose mothers had not smoked.

Dr Kabesh and colleagues said: "While environmental tobacco smoke exposure is a serious health hazard for children, some are even more susceptible to developing asthma and severe asthma symptoms when exposed to passive smoking."

Matthew Hallsworth, Research Development Manager at Asthma UK, said: "There is already a great deal of evidence to show that second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard for children, however this study suggests that some children may be at greater risk due to their genetic make-up.

"The enzyme GST has been linked to childhood asthma and allergies in previous studies. This new research shows that defects in the gene for this enzyme may be associated with the development of asthma and wheezing in children when exposed to second-hand smoke or maternal smoking during pregnancy.

"Important findings such as these should help us to begin to unravel the complex jigsaw of interactions between our genes and factors in the environment that can lead to the development of asthma."

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