A new UK study has provided key insights as to why some individuals maintain good lung function and avoid respiratory disease even after a lifetime of smoking. The study made use of the UK Biobank project, analysing DNA samples from over 50,000 individuals and found significant genetic traits that not only predicted good lung function in smokers and non-smokers alike but also found traits that predicted poor function in later life. The findings shed some light on the genetic contributions to lung disease and will hopefully go on to provide new avenues for research.
Cigarette smoking has a well evidenced, damaging effects on the lungs, typically causing a long term decline in function and significantly increasing the risk of developing a number of respiratory disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Yet some smokers will avoid these effects and of course, though rarely, non-smokers can develop respiratory diseases like COPD. Genetic factors have long been speculated to play a role in lung function and disease and would likely produce such a phenomenon.
The study compared individuals with varying degrees of lung function (as measured by the forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1)) grouping heavy smokers apart from non-smokers. Genome-wide analysis revealed several genes associated with extremes of FEV1 regardless of smoker status with some genes also being associated with COPD even in non-smokers. The identification of such genes will begin to clarify the mechanisms involved in lung health and disease and their interaction with smoking. Such genome-wide analysis studies are set to play an increasingly prominent and exciting role in medical research.