A UNM School of Medicine professor will be presenting a study this week at the American Thoracic Society’s 2008 International Conference in Toronto linking a low level of protein called adiponectin in fat cells to an increased asthmas risk in women.

“Our finding that adiponectin may have a protective effect on asthma in women may open up doors to new ways of treating asthma,” said lead researcher Akshay Sood, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in Albuquerque.

“The findings have particular relevance for obese women, since they are more likely to have low blood adiponectin concentrations.” The data from the study comes from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) observational cohort, which recently completed 20 years of health assessments in more than 5,000 young adults. Participants were healthy 18 to 30 year-olds when the study began in 1985 and 1986.

The goal of the research has been to look for risk factors for cardiovascular and lung disease as participants age. Low levels of adiponectin, a protein produced by fat cells, are associated with an increased risk of asthma in women, according to the study.

Although adiponectin is produced in fat cells, obesity may trigger an inflammatory response to it, and its production is diminished in obese people. Levels of adiponectin increase with weight loss. To determine the effect of adiponectin on asthma, researchers divided 2,890 men and women from the CARDIA study into thirds according to the amount of adiponectin their fat cells produced.

Women with the lowest amount of adiponectin, who also tended to be more obese, had almost double the risk of developing asthma, compared to women who had the most adiponectin in their blood. This was true regardless of the women’s weight. The effect was most evident in the premenopausal women, who represented 90 percent of the 1,603 women included in the study.

The researchers did not see a similar relationship between adiponectin levels and asthma in men. While human studies of adiponectin and asthma are still in the early stages, studies of mice indicate that this protein plays a role in airway inflammation and airway hyperreactivity, or “twitchiness,” both of which are factors in asthma.

“Because of the increase in asthma prevalence, as well as obesity, there should be a lot of interest in continuing to study the effect of products of fat cells on asthma,” Dr. Sood said.


Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322