The worldwide incidence and prevalence of asthma continues to increase. Asthma is now understood as an umbrella term for different phenotypes or endotypes, which arise through different pathophysiologic pathways. Understanding the many factors contributing to development of the disease is important for the identification of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of certain asthma phenotypes. The hygiene hypothesis has been formulated to explain the increasing prevalence of allergic disease, including asthma. This hypothesis postulates that decreased exposure at a young age to certain infectious agents as a result of improved hygiene, increased antibiotic use and vaccination, and changes in lifestyle and dietary habits is associated with changes in the immune system, which predispose subjects to allergy. Many microbes, during their coevolution with human subjects, developed mechanisms to manipulate the human immune system and to increase their chances of survival. Improving models of asthma, as well as choosing adequate end points in clinical trials, will lead to a more complete understanding of the underlying mechanisms, thus providing an opportunity to devise primary and secondary interventions at the same time as identifying new molecular targets for treatment. This article reports the discussion and conclusion of a workshop under the auspices of the Netherlands Lung Foundation to extend our understanding of how modulation of the immune system by bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections might affect the development of asthma and to map out future lines of investigation.
Keywords: Hygiene hypothesis; asthma; helminths; immune regulation; microbes; microbiome; sensitization; viruses.
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