Study by Cleveland Clinic Research Team Shows Link Between Asthma and Metabolism

Discovery of metabolic changes caused by asthma suggests potential new treatment strategies

A Cleveland Clinic research team has demonstrated that an enzyme called arginase revs up cellular metabolism in asthma, a finding that sheds new light on the biological similarities between asthma and obesity while also suggesting potential new treatment strategies.

Led by Serpil Erzurum, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist, the research team found that the process of energy production – known as cellular respiration or aerobic metabolism – occurs to a greater degree than normal in the presence of asthma. This metabolic increase is caused by changes in a mitochondrial enzyme called arginase.

Using a mouse model of asthma, they showed that arginase activation and availability is enhanced, allowing the cells to produce more energy during cellular respiration. Interestingly, they found that the increase in metabolism suppressed inflammation in the lungs and protected asthmatic mice from developing more severe forms of the disease.

“Our results indicate that enhanced arginine metabolism may counteract inflammation and possibly offer protection for asthmatic patients,” Dr. Erzurum said. “It also supports mounting evidence that bioenergetic changes and inflammation underlie both asthma and obesity.”

Asthma and obesity have long been associated with each other, but a definitive biological link between the diseases has not yet been discovered. More studies are needed to clarify the exact mechanisms of arginase upregulation.

About 22 million Americans suffer from asthma, an inflammation of the airways in the lungs. It causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath and in some cases can lead to death. Exercise, allergies and airborne dust can set off asthma attacks.

The study’s findings are published in the current issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation:

Dr. Erzurum, a pulmonologist and critical-care physician, is chair of the Department of Pathobiology at the Lerner Research Institute at Cleveland Clinic.


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Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S.News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. More than 3,000 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and subspecialties. The Cleveland Clinic health system includes a main campus near downtown Cleveland, eight community hospitals, more than 90 northern Ohio outpatient locations, including 18 full-service family health centers, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. In 2014, there were 5.9 million outpatient visits throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system and 152,500 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and 147 countries. Visit us at  Follow us at

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