Emphysema Gets the CSI Treatment

How smoke induced emphysema develops in the body

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Sometimes researchers act like detectives when it comes to diseases. By exploring the “crime scene” of emphysema, a new study gets to the root of the disease.

A new study has mapped how emphysema, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), develops in the lungs.

From the lighting of a cigarette to what happens in the body, researchers tracked the process of emphysema. This can lead to a better understanding of the disease and also help to develop new treatments for emphysema.

"Ask you doctor about non-invasive testing for emphysema."

The four year study was led by Dr. Farrah Kheradmand, professor of medicine and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine. The most important discovery about emphysema was that it was specific result of an immune response caused by smoking.

Emphysema was previously believed to be a consequence of long-term smoking according to Dr. Kheradmand. Instead of emphysema being the result of the collective damage caused by smoking over the years, smoking triggers specific immune system responses that can lead to emphysema.

By dissecting all the cells that were evident during emphysema and smoking, researchers began to understand what factors led to emphysema.

These factors are called epigenetics. Epigenetic factors affect gene expression after DNA is formed. Smoking is an environmental epigenetic factor. Smoking, as a factor, can affect lung inflammation which can lead to lung damage, emphysema or cancer.

Among the evidence in the crime scene of the lungs were antigen-presenting cells (APC), which are white blood cells that are used by the immune system to fight off foreign bacteria.

The researchers mimicked normal human smoking conditions in mice. The mice developed smoke-induced emphysema in around three to four months. Researchers found an APC, cytokine interleukin-17 (IL-17), to be the mastermind behind the disease. When IL-17 cells were removed, the mice did not develop emphysema in the same time span.

Additionally researchers found gamma delta T-cells present, which are white blood cells that are a part of the body's defense. These cells helped battle inflammation.

By understanding how smoke-induced emphysema develops, future research can look at APC's to help develop new treatments. Knowing what cells are present and their roles in a disease is a crucial first step in battling emphysema.

The study was funded by a Veterans Affairs merit award and the National Institutes of Health. No known conflicts were reported.

This study was published in the January edition of Science Translational Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 18, 2012
Last Updated:
January 22, 2012