Too much mucus secretion in the lungs could be life-threatening for patients with asthma.

Now, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have broken up that secretion at a molecular level and reversed its deadly impacts.

Publishing their study in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers explained how they developed an inhaled treatment that disrupted the secretion of excess mucus and opened up airways in mice.

They said the same treatment had similar impacts on human mucus samples.

Lead author Dr. Christopher Evans said, “Currently about 10% of the population has asthma. Excessive mucus blocks airflow, causing wheezing, and worsening the effects of inflammation and contraction of the muscles that line the airways.”

Yet asthma treatments like steroids and bronchodilators are rarely effective against excessive mucus secretion. Dr. Evans said they hydrate the mucus so one can cough it up easily, but they fail to treat the problem at the molecular level.

Dr. Evans and his colleagues targeted macromolecules in mucus known as polymeric mucin glycoproteins that help protect the lungs from infection in healthy individuals. However, when they are overproduced, they make gelatinous plugs that can block airways.

The team tried to shut down this process by breaking up mucin disulfide bonds which contribute to the overproduction of mucus, according to Science Daily.

Co-author Dr. Ana Maria Jaramillo said, “We showed that disrupting mucin disulfide bonds loosens the mucus and reverses the pathological effects of mucus hypersecretion in a mouse allergic asthma model. Loosening the mucus reduces airway inflammation, enhances mucociliary clearance, and abolishes airway hyperactivity.”

“You can develop safer mucolytic compounds using this kind of strategy,” Dr. Evans said. “They could help steroids and albuterol penetrate deeper into the lungs and airways. They could be used as an adjunct therapy.”

The team explained that such new compounds could be used in treating other respiratory conditions, including COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, and infections such as pneumonia, or even COVID that attacks the lungs and airways.

Dr. Evans said, “These findings establish grounds for developing treatments to inhibit effects of mucus hypersecretion in asthma. I believe they have life-saving potential.” The article was published in Science Daily.