Master Gene Guards Lungs Against Cigarette Smoke

Finding could shed light on why some are more susceptible than others

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FRIDAY, Nov. 12, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A gene in mice that defends the lungs against environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke has been identified by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This gene, called Nrf2, is a "master gene" that controls 50 other genes that help protect the lungs from developing emphysema. This finding could help scientists better understand how the human body protects its lungs against environmental pollutants and why some people are more susceptible than others to lung disease.

"The important thing to remember is that the degree of lung damage depends on the ability to defend against environmental factors. We now know that Nrf2 is the key player in protection even in the case of chronic exposure to pollutants," senior author Shyam Biswal, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences, said in a prepared statement.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The Bloomberg scientists found that disruption of the Nrf2 gene caused earlier onset and more severe emphysema in mice created to be resistant to cigarette smoke-related emphysema. Further analysis revealed 50 Nrf2-dependent genes that work together to protect the lungs from emphysema caused by cigarette smoke.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about emphysema.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, November 2004

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