Smoking's Effect on Lungs Similar to Cystic Fibrosis: Study

Some of the same treatments might benefit smokers, cystic fibrosis patients, researchers say

TUESDAY, Oct. 18, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Smoking seems to have a similar effect on the lungs as cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease affecting the lungs and other organs, a new study reveals.

Researchers found that like cystic fibrosis, smoking leads to the production of sticky mucus that causes dry cough and infections. They concluded that cystic fibrosis treatments could potentially be used to treat smoking-related diseases -- and vice versa.

Cystic fibrosis interferes with the movement of salt and water in the cells lining the lungs, trapping bacteria in thick mucus, resulting in potentially fatal infections. The researchers said that smoking has a similar effect, resulting in mucus that causes several health problems, including dry cough, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"We hope this study will highlight the importance of airway hydration in terms of lung health and that it will help provide a road map for the development of novel therapies for the treatment of smoking-related lung disease," Robert Tarran, a researcher at the Cystic Fibrosis/Pulmonary Research and Treatment Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) news release.

In conducting the study, published online Oct. 17 in the FASEB Journal, researchers examined how cigarette smoke affects a protein that helps the lungs stay hydrated, known as CFTR. They found that smokers had a 60 percent drop in CFTR activity, compared to non-smokers.

The study also found cigarette smoke reduced the amount of liquid covering lung cells -- an effect that lasted for at least two and a half hours after exposure. Separate studies, the researchers pointed out, showed this reduction was caused by interference with CFTR activity.

The researchers also found that when lung cells exposed to cigarette smoke were treated with hypertonic saline (a treatment for cystic fibrosis), the amount of liquid covering them increased to more normal levels and reduced the amount of mucus in the lungs.

The authors concluded that smokers and people with cystic fibrosis may benefit from some of the same treatments. "But the bottom line remains: The most effective treatment for smoker's cough, or worse, is to quit smoking, now," added Dr. Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the journal, in the release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the health effects of smoking.

SOURCE: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, news release, Oct. 12, 2011
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