Structure-function relationship in smooth muscle contraction

Hollow organs such as the intestines, bladder, uterus, blood vessels, and the airways that make up lungs are lined with smooth muscle cells. Normal functioning of these organs depends on the ability of these cells to contract and relax – processes that control the volume and shape of the organs and enable them to perform their various functions. When an individual has asthma, excessive contraction of the airway smooth muscle results in airway narrowing, compromising the individual’s ability to breathe. In asthmatics, airway smooth muscle has a tendency to generate more force and shorten more extensively than in individuals without asthma. This condition is further exacerbated by the fact that the muscle cells adapt to this shorter length, making it difficult for asthmatic airways to open after an attack has occurred. Leslie Chin is studying the role airway smooth muscle plays in the development of asthma. Generally, asthma research focuses on relaxing the smooth muscle cells which is typically accomplished by using an inhaler; however, it is also important to focus on preventing these muscle cells from adapting to shorter lengths. Leslie is investigating how this adaptation occurs in asthmatics and how this adaptation is prevented in healthy people. Understanding how both the mechanics of airway smooth muscle in asthma and the alterations are altered could lead to new treatments for the disease.