In addition to identifying factors that trigger symptoms in established asthma, NIAID-supported research has provided insights into factors that may contribute to asthma before it develops. These insights may aid development of early-life interventions to prevent asthma.
Microbial exposures early in life may affect risk of later developing childhood allergies and asthma. More than a decade ago, NIAID-funded research revealed that growing up with pets in the home reduces the chances of developing asthma and allergies. Recently, the NIAID-funded Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study showed that children exposed to high indoor levels of pet and pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age. The reason for this protective effect is not fully understood, but in a separate study, NIAID-funded researchers found that house dust from homes with dogs contains microbes that can stop mice from developing asthma-like changes in their lungs. These researchers also identified a specific pattern of microbes and microbe-derived chemicals in the stool of infants that is associated with the development of many allergies and asthma early in life.
These discoveries support the notion that the types of microbes found in the environment can influence the types of microbes inside the human gut. In turn, gut microbes may influence some functions of the human immune system, particularly those that are associated with the development of allergy. Additional research is needed to clarify the potential roles of microbial exposures in asthma development, with the ultimate hope of developing methods to manipulate such exposures and prevent asthma and allergies.