• WisBusiness

UW Madison: Asthma-brain connection

CONTACT: William Busse, wwb@medicine.wisc.edu, (608) 263-6183
https://uwmadison.box.com/v/asthma SEE VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuwUAC5SHLw&feature=youtu.be

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are investigating cross-talk between the brain and lungs of people with asthma in a four-year, $2.5 million study to understand how psychological stress can make asthma symptoms worse.

Through a clinical study called AsthMatic Inflammation and Neurocircuitry Activation, or MINA, the team hopes to decipher exactly how mind and body connect when people with asthma experience stress and find ways to alter brain-lung communication to help them manage their disease.

The effort is led by two groups with international reputations in the two areas united by the study: a team led by William Busse, a professor of asthma, pulmonary and critical care medicine at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and a team headed by Richard Davidson, William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the UW-Madison Center for Healthy Minds.

The new study represents a partnership between Busse and Davidson that extends back to 1995, when the pair participated in a scientific meeting focused on how stress may alter a person's susceptibility to worsening asthma.

Combining their expertise, the researchers conducted work that hinted at connections between the nervous system, the immune system and asthma, a chronic lung disease that causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and acute attacks called exacerbations that can be deadly if not managed properly.

"Our efforts brought together two areas of research not commonly linked," Busse says. So far, their collaboration has led to a series of studies joining these once disparate fields.

"The fact that psychosocial stress can provoke an exacerbation of asthma symptoms clearly indicates that the brain must be involved since it is the brain that transduces stressful events into biological signals that ultimately influence lung function," Davidson says.

Their endeavors open entirely new ways of looking at asthma that could have profound affects for patients living with the disease.

"My greatest hope for this study is that our knowledge about the way that the brain and immune system interact in asthma is refined so that we can start tweaking how we treat the disease, and offer different and better treatment modalities," says Melissa Rosenkranz, an associate scientist in Davidson's laboratory who leads the brain scan experiments for the study.


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