Researchers have found an explanation for why lifelong smokers sometimes seem to have lungs that are in perfect health and why non-smokers sometimes develop lung cancer. It turns out that there’s a certain DNA mutation that both groups share.
Field experts from the UK studied data gathered from 152,030 individuals and noticed that over 50,000 of them had rare mutations in their DNA. They generally mask the damage done by years of smoking and enhance lung function, unfortunately they also tie lifelong non-smokers to the risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The project was carried out by Ian Hall, professor from Queen’s Medical Centre, the University of Nottingham’s, and his team. The researchers wanted to gain a better understanding of the “genetic architecture of smoking behavior and lung function phenotypes”, airflow obstruction in particular.
They are convinced that this is essential in order to figure out what are the factors that cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to develop.
On one hand, field experts have been saying for a long time that indoor air pollution and smoking are the usual suspects for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But on the other hand, field experts have also been saying that there’s an undeniable genetic component in the development of the condition.
The research team behind the project proved the second part of this argument when they discovered that individuals who’ve never had a cigarette in their lives and individuals who are thought of as being heavy smokers share a genetic variant linked to lung disease.
The finding indicates that a person’s smoking behavior acts independently of their DNA, which is why both groups mentioned above can develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Out of the 152,030 subjects in the study, 46,758 were heavy smokers and 105,272 were non-smokers who never indulged in the vice. They were all of European ancestry and fell into one of the extremes of lung function – some of them had high forced expiratory volume (FEV), others had low forced expiratory volume.
Professor Hall and the rest of the team wanted to know whether or not they can find any genetic causes that the two forced expiratory volume extremes shared, and their investigation revealed that there’s a total of (6) genetic variants that can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and affect lung health in general.
What surprised was that one of these genetic variants was not only found in heavy smokers, but in non-smokers as well – “the numbers of copies of duplicated sequence of the genome on chromosome 17 ” were the same.
The findings were published recently, in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
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