Airway smooth muscle as a target of asthma therapy: history and new directions
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Ultimately, asthma is a disease characterized by constriction of airway smooth muscle (ASM). The earliest approach to the treatment of asthma comprised the use of xanthines and anti-cholinergics with the later introduction of anti-histamines and anti-leukotrienes. Agents directed at ion channels on the smooth muscle membrane (Ca2+ channel blockers, K+ channel openers) have been tried and found to be ineffective. Functional antagonists, which modulate intracellular signalling pathways within the smooth muscle (beta-agonists and phosphodiesterase inhibitors), have been used for decades with success, but are not universally effective and patients continue to suffer with exacerbations of asthma using these drugs. During the past several decades, research energies have been directed into developing therapies to treat airway inflammation, but there have been no substantial advances in asthma therapies targeting the ASM. In this manuscript, excitation-contraction coupling in ASM is addressed, highlighting the current treatment of asthma while proposing several new directions that may prove helpful in the management of this disease.
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