Asthma is a complex phenotype influenced by environmental and genetic factors for which severe irreversible structural airway alterations are more frequently observed in African Americans. In addition to a multitude of factors contributing to its pathobiology, increased amounts of myosin light chain kinase (MLCK), the central regulator of cellular contraction, have been found in airway smooth muscle from asthmatics. The gene encoding MLCK (MYLK) is located in 3q21.1, a region noted by a number of genome-wide studies to show linkage with asthma and asthma-related phenotypes. We studied 17 MYLK genetic variants in European and African Americans with asthma and severe asthma and identified a single non-synonymous polymorphism (Pro147Ser) that was almost entirely restricted to African populations and which was associated with severe asthma in African Americans. These results remained highly significant after adjusting for proportions of ancestry estimated using 30 unlinked microsatellites (adjusted odds ratio: 1.76 [95% confidence interval, CI: 1.17-2.65], p = 0.005). Since all common HapMap polymorphisms in ∼500kb contiguous regions have low-to-moderate linkage disequilibrium with Pro147Ser, we speculate that this polymorphism is causally related to the severe asthma phenotype in African Americans. The association of this polymorphism, located in the N-terminal region of the non-muscle MLCK isoform, emphasizes the potential importance of the vascular endothelium, a tissue in which MLCK is centrally involved in multiple aspects of the inflammatory response, in the pathogenesis of severe asthma. This finding also offers a possible genetic explanation for some of the more severe asthma phenotype observed in African American asthmatics.
- Population stratification
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