Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. The causes of asthma and other inflammatory lung diseases are thought to be both environmental and heritable. Genetic studies do not adequately explain the heritability and susceptabilty to the disease, and recent evidence suggests that epigentic changes may underlie these processes. Epigenetics are heritable noncoding changes to DNA and can be influenced by environmental factors such as smoking and traffic pollution, which can cause genome-wide and gene-specific changes in DNA methylation. In addition, alterations in histone acetyltransferase/ deacetylase activities can be observed in the cells of patients with lung diseases such as severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and are often linked to smoking. Drugs such as glucocorticoids, which are used to control inflammation, are dependent on histone deacetylase activity, which may be important in patients with severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who do not respond well to glucocorticoid therapy. Future work targeting specific histone acetyltransferases/deacetylases or (de)methylases may prove to be effective future anti-inflammatory treatments for patients with treatment-unresponsive asthma.
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