Scientists have identified a critical role for a protein never implicated in asthma previously, that may lead to improved therapeutic options for people living with the condition.
Caspase-11 is a protein with an important role in defending against bacteria.
The researchers from Trinity College Dublin in Ireland found that when the protein is over-active it can provoke a damaging inflammatory reaction.
When this happens, it is likely to be a key driver of allergic inflammation in the lungs of asthmatics, according to the findings published in the journal Nature Communications.
"Caspase-11 can cause cells to die, which is a very inflammatory event as the cells then release their contents, which can irritate tissues in our body," said lead author Zbigniew Zaslona, from Trinity College Dublin.
The researchers have been exploring the role that inflammation plays in asthma -- a very common and often serious disease of childhood.
Although symptoms of mild asthma can be managed with current therapies, severe asthma remains very difficult to treat, they said.
"A variety of irritants such as airborne pollutants, certain types of pollen and house dust mites can induce cell death in the lungs.
"Our work suggests that Caspase-11 is sensing these noxious things and causing the disease," Zaslona said.
"Caspase-11 -- or it's human equivalent, which is Caspase-4 -- has never been implicated in asthma before so we think it holds great promise as a possible target for new drugs to treat this common, debilitating disease," Professor Luke O'Neill from Trinity College Dublin added.