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Variation in the RANTES gene increases risk of asthma and atopy
By Bijal P. Trivedi

A British research team has found that a minute variation in the regulatory region of the RANTES gene can increase the risk of developing asthma and atopy, an allergic response that does not involve the lungs. The variation may be useful as a diagnostic tool to identify carriers who may be at risk for developing a severe form of asthma.

The RANTES gene produces a protein that plays a major role in inflammation by attracting immune cells that release chemicals, inflaming the tissue lining the airways. This results in restricted airflow and leads to asthma. The variation, known as -403 A, is a SNP, or single nucleotide polymorphism, that occurs in the regulatory region of the gene.

"If you have the -403 A variant, then your body is engineered to produce more of this protein," says Ali Hajeer, of the University of Manchester, UK. Researchers believe that higher levels of RANTES produce more severe inflammation.

The UK team found that people showing no signs of either asthma or atopy double their chance of developing these diseases if they carry the -403 A SNP. Asthmatics with the SNP are 6.5 times more likely to develop a severe form of the disease than other asthmatics, says Hajeer.

Hajeer believes that one way to control asthma would be to create a drug that neutralizes the RANTES protein and thus reduces inflammation. The -403 A SNP may also be useful for screening asthma patients and personalizing the management of the disease.

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Fryer, A. A. et al. The -403 G-->A promoter polymorphism in the RANTES gene is associated with atopy and asthma. Genes Immun 1, 509-514 (December 2000).

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