Researchers with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recently found genetic variations which may be indicators of those who are at risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The study, which was funded by the NHLBI, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, examined causes of COPD that develop in many nonsmokers, an NIH release said. The study showed that genetically programmed airway tree variation is linked to a higher rate of COPD among older adults.
“This work raises many interesting questions for researchers, " NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases Director James Kiley said in the release. "Understanding precisely why these genes influence the development of COPD may lead to entirely new and more effective ways of preventing or treating this disease."
COPD had been believed to develop later in life as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke or air pollution. However, recent studies have shown that many older adults with COPD had low lung function early in life and experienced the normal lung function decline associated with aging, the release said.
“In the current study, we found that central airway branches of the lungs, which are believed to form early in life, do not follow the textbook pattern in one quarter of the adult population and these non-textbook variations in airway branches are associated with higher COPD prevalence among older adults,” Benjamin M. Smith, the study’s first author and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, said in the release. "Interestingly, one of the airway branch variants was associated with COPD among smokers and nonsmokers. The other was associated with COPD, but only among smokers.”
Researchers say they now hope to investigate family history to identify a common airway branch variation that occurs within families.