A gene that acts as a "master switch" to turn on numerous antioxidant and pollutant-detoxifying genes to protect the lungs from environmental pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, has been identified by an Indian-origin researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Associate Professor Shyam Biswal studied lung tissue samples from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and found that expression of the regulating gene NRF2 was significantly decreased in smokers with advanced stage of the condition as compared to normal subjects.
Biswal previously identified that disruption of NRF2 expression in mice caused early onset and severe emphysema, which is a major component of COPD in human.
However, the status of this critical pathway in humans with COPD was unclear.
"This work clearly demonstrates that decline in our antioxidant system is involved in progression of COPD, which could also be the case for other environmental diseases. There is no treatment of COPD, but NRF2 could be a novel target for the development of new drug therapies," said Biswal.
Dr. Rubin Tuder, a University of Colorado expert who is a co-author of the study, said: "As we learn how the protective actions of NRF2 are decreased in the course of a lifetime of exposure to cigarette smoke, it opens new venues for the development of novel drugs fitted for individual patients in specific stages of the disease."
The study has been published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.