Mechanisms of Asthma in Obesity. Pleiotropic Aspects of Obesity Produce Distinct Asthma Phenotypes

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The majority of patients with severe or difficult-to-control asthma in the United States are obese. Epidemiological studies have clearly established that obese patients tend to have worse asthma control and increased hospitalizations and do not respond to standard controller therapy as well as lean patients with asthma. Less clear are the mechanistic underpinnings for the striking clinical differences between lean and obese patients with asthma. Because obesity is principally a disorder of metabolism and energy regulation, processes fundamental to the function of every cell and system within the body, it is not surprising that it affects the respiratory system; it is perhaps surprising that it has taken so long to appreciate how dysfunctional metabolism and energy regulation lead to severe airway disease. Although early investigations focused on identifying a common factor in obesity that could promote airway disease, an appreciation has emerged that the asthma of obesity is a manifestation of multiple anomalies related to obesity affecting all the different pathways that cause asthma, and likely also to de novo airway dysfunction. Consequently, all the phenotypes of asthma currently recognized in lean patients (which are profoundly modified by obesity), as well as those unique to one's obesity endotype, likely contribute to obese asthma in a particular individual. This perspective reviews what we have learned from clinical studies and animal models about the phenotypes of asthma in obesity, which show how specific aspects of obesity and altered metabolism might lead to de novo airway disease and profoundly modify existing airway disease.

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