Asthma is an obstructive airway disease, with a heterogeneous and multifactorial pathogenesis. Although generally considered to be a disease principally driven by chronic inflammation, it is becoming increasingly recognised that the immune component of the pathology poorly correlates with the clinical symptoms of asthma, thus highlighting a potentially central role for non-immune cells. In this context airway smooth muscle (ASM) may be a key player, as it comprises a significant proportion of the airway wall and is the ultimate effector of acute airway narrowing. Historically, the contribution of ASM to asthma pathogenesis has been contentious, yet emerging evidence suggests that ASM contractile activation imparts chronic effects that extend well beyond the temporary effects of bronchoconstriction. In this review article we describe the effects that ASM contraction, in combination with cellular mechanotransduction and novel contraction-inflammation synergies, contribute to asthma pathogenesis. Specific emphasis will be placed on the effects that ASM contraction exerts on the mechanical properties of the airway wall, as well as novel mechanisms by which ASM contraction may contribute to more established features of asthma such as airway wall remodelling.
Keywords: Airway mechanics; Airway smooth muscle; Asthma; Contraction; Mechanotransduction.
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