Physiological Mechanisms of Airway Hyperresponsiveness in Obese Asthma

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Obesity affects the incidence and severity of asthma in at least two major phenotypes: an early-onset allergic (EOA) form that is complicated by obesity and a late-onset nonallergic (LONA) form that occurs only in the setting of obesity. Both groups exhibit airway hyperresponsiveness to methacholine challenge but exhibit differential effects of weight loss. Measurements of lung function in patients with LONA obese asthma suggest that this group of individuals may simply be those unlucky enough to have airways that are more compliant than average, and that this leads to airway hyperresponsiveness at the reduced lung volumes caused by excess adipose tissue around the chest wall. In contrast, the frequent exacerbations in those with EOA obese asthma can potentially be explained by episodic inflammatory thickening of the airway wall synergizing with obesity-induced reductions in lung volume. These testable hypotheses are based on the strong likelihood that LONA and EOA obese asthma are distinct diseases. Both, however, may benefit from targeted therapeutics that impose elevations in lung volume.

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