A multi-hit endocrine model of intrinsic adult-onset asthma

Ageing Res Rev. 2008 Apr;7(2):114-25. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2007.12.002. Epub 2007 Dec 31.


Epidemiological studies indicate that adult-onset asthma is initiated by stress (anxiety and depression), obesity and menopause. Ironically, despite our understanding of the various stressors that promote chronic adult-onset asthma, most of which are known to elevate cortisol production via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, inhaled and systemic corticosteroids are the mainstay for the treatment of chronic asthma. This implicates other endocrine or cellular changes independent of cortisol synthesis in non-allergic adult-onset asthma. The mechanism by which corticosteroids are thought to modulate bronchial tone in relieving asthma is via corticosteroid-responsive genes that increase PGE(2) and cAMP production which promote muscle relaxation. Therefore, any physiological condition that suppresses intracellular PGE(2) and cAMP production would counter cortisol-induced muscle relaxation and potentially trigger non-allergic adult-onset asthma. Stress, obesity and menopause act on three interrelated endocrine pathways, the serotonergic, leptinergic and hypothalamic pathways, all of which operate through receptors to modulate cAMP and Ca(2+) metabolism in smooth muscle cells (SMCs). We propose that the level of SMC cAMP, as determined by overall signaling through corticosteroid receptors, leptin receptors and the GPCRs of the HPG and serotonergic pathways, will regulate bronchial tone (i.e. the 'Multi-Hit Endocrine Model of Adult-Onset Asthma'). Thus, decreases in HPG (menopause) and serotonergic (depression) signaling and increases in leptinergic (obesity) signaling relative to HPA signaling would decrease cellular SMC cAMP and promote muscle contraction. This model can explain the discrepant epidemiological data associating stress, obesity, depression and menopause with adult-onset asthma and is supported by basic and clinical data. Treatment of depressed or menopausal asthmatics with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or hormone replacement therapy, respectively, alleviates bronchoconstriction. Future therapeutic strategies might therefore target the serotonergic, leptinergic and hypothalamic pathways in regulating cellular cAMP production and bronchoconstriction for the treatment of adult-onset asthma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / complications
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology