It's widely known what can trigger asthmatic symptoms, but it's never been clear what actually causes the condition in the first place – but a new study could change that.
Researchers in the US and Iran believe asthma could be caused by the shape of the cells lining asthmatics' lungs.
The cells' shape makes them prone to jamming, instead of flowing, as they do in the lungs of a non-asthmatic, according to research published today in journal Nature Materials.
The scientists expected the jamming to be caused by the cells' 'stickiness', and were surprised to find their shape was the problem.
"One might have expected that cell jamming would be caused by increasing mutual cell–cell adhesive stresses such that cells become stuck to immediate neighbours and, as a result, the cellular collective rigidifies, the mutual cellular rearrangements stop, and the constituent cells cannot move," they write.
"Much to our surprise, direct measurements defied this expectation—in layers that become jammed, the adhesive stresses between a cell and its neighbours were attenuated, not augmented."
Similar problems were not found to the same degree in bronchial epithelial cells from non-asthmatics.
The discovery could aid in developing new treatments for asthma, which affects more than 500,000 New Zealanders according to the Asthma Foundation.