Individuals may have a master gene that helps protect the lungs from pollutants, making them less susceptible to lung diseases. Johns Hopkins University researchers discovered that the gene is triggered in response to environmental hazards (eg, cigarette smoke). The gene then turns on 50 other antioxidant and pollutant-detoxifying genes to protect the lungs from developing emphysema and other conditions. In a strain of mice that is normally resistant to emphysema related to cigarette smoke, the disruption of the gene caused earlier onset and more severe emphysema.
"With this new gene and environmental interaction discovery, in the future we may be able to identify people who are genetically predisposed to developing lung diseases?not just COPD?that are caused by environmental factors," said senior researcher Shyam Biswal, PhD.