Researchers have discovered a protein that appears to play a crucial role in development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The protein called osteopontin (OPN) could lead to a novel approach to the treatment of a devastating lung disease.
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston conducted research on mice showed that genetically removing osteopontin could prevent COPD.
The mice without the protein had less inflammation and lung disease.
"The lack of osteopontin in the mice prevented the COPD features," said Daniel Schneider, the study's lead author and an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at the UT Health Science Center at Houston.
To understand the applicability of their findings to humans, the researchers analyzed the airways of people with COPD and found elevated levels of the protein.
"This is an important crossover study," said Dr Michael Blackburn, the study's senior author and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
"Because we can show osteopontin is elevated in people with COPD, this suggests that osteopontin could serve as both an indicator of disease progression and a therapeutic target," he added.
The findings appear online in The FASEB Journal.