According to new research conducted with the assistance of mice, Penn State researchers say that chronic lung inflammation is associated with childhood asthma is linked to developing anxiety as an adult. The study’s results were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, showing that ongoing exposure to allergens in an individuals childhood was associated with chronic lung inflammation, which was also seemingly linked to genetic changes related to stress and serotonin production, and that asthma attacks were a contributing factor to common episodes of anxiety.
Previously conducted studies have already shown that about 10 percent of children and teenagers have asthma, and according to medical research, those individuals that are affected by the severe condition are two to three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety later during their adult years, according to Penn State News. Narrowing down exactly why these conditions are linked together is challenging to researchers due to the reason that there many possible social and environmental triggers for anxiety, such as problems at home or school, allergens, and pollution, which finds it difficult for officials to examine the illness.
According to Penn State News, researchers conducted the study by collecting four groups of mice in order to better understand the connection between lung inflammation and anxiety symptoms. The study’s results shortly found that even after allergen exposure stopped, the mice still had lung inflammation up to three months later, leading researchers to conclude that lung inflammation might linger long after asthma triggers are resolved.
Sonia Cavigelli, associate professor of behavioural health at Penn State reported that “If this translates to humans, it may suggest that if you grow up exposed to an allergen that you’re reacting to, even if you get over that, you might still have these subtle, long-term changes in lung inflammation.”
Following the results, researchers also discovered that the mice reacted when they were exposed to inflammation-causing allergens associated with changes in lung function. The mice also reportedly showed changes in gene expression in areas of the brain linked to stress regulation and serotonin function, according to the press release released by Penn State News.
According to the press release, evidence suggests that stressors during adolescence predispose an organism toward adult anxiety, meaning that it is possible that a predisposition to anxiety prior to adolescence may heighten an individuals responses to and/or memory of an adult, and cause a heightened level of inflammatory symptoms in their asthma than the average individual may.
Cavigelli went into more detail, explaining that “The idea of studying this link between asthma and anxiety is a pretty new area, and right now we don’t know what the connection is … What we saw in mice was that attacks of laboured breathing may cause short-term anxiety, but that long-term effects may be due to lasting lung inflammation.”
The study’s lead author, Jasmine Caulfield, a graduate student in neuroscience also commented on the new research, explaining that “It makes sense to us because while laboured breathing events may be scary and cause anxiety in the short term, it’s the inflammation in the airways that persists into adulthood … So it would make sense that long-term anxiety is linked with this long-term physical symptom.”
According to the official press release on the study, researchers also shockingly found a number of differences between male and female mice.
Caulfield elaborated, saying, “In this study, the female mice had more inflammation in their lungs than the male mice three months after exposure to an allergen … In humans, girls are more likely to have persistent asthma while boys are more likely to outgrow it, so our animal model seems to map onto what we see in humans.”
While it’s clear that more studies will need to be conducted to further understand the links between asthma and anxiety on a larger scale, this research is the first step in understanding more about both illness’s as a whole and how chronic lung inflammation is linked to changes in the brain associated with anxiety symptoms, furthering the chances of developing some type of permanent relief in the future.