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Asthma is a common disease affecting 10% of the Australian population. The causes of asthma are unclear but are known to include a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. A common respiratory pathogen, Chlamydia pneumoniae, may have a role to play in changing a persons immune system thereby increasing the allergic response of the lung to different everyday triggers. Some asthmatics have been found to have worse symptoms of wheeze after infection with this agent. In order to establish whether this is coincidental or a true association we plan to test the response of patients' dendritic cells to exposure to Chlamydia. Dendritic cells are defence cells in the lung and other parts of the body which help decide whether a new exposure is harmful to the person or not.
By infecting blood-derived dendritic cells from asthmatics and non-asthmatic controls with Chlamydia we can determine the cytokine profile produced in response to infection. This will allow us to show if infection of asthmatic dendritic cells induces the type of immune response that promotes the development of asthma. Dendritic cells will be grown in vitro from precursor cells isolated from peripheral blood then infected with C. pneumoniae. Infected dendritic cells will be analysed by flow cytometry for phenotypic changes, for production of cytokines such as IL-5, eotaxin, IL-10 and IL-13, that promote asthma and by gene array analysis to investigate expression of multiple inflammatory genes that contribute to tissue damage in the asthmatic airways.
This work is a collaborative project with respiratory physicians at the Prince Charles Hospital who will provide the patient samples. All laboratory work will be carried out at IHBI.