An infection that often goes undetected can block the lung's natural protective response against tobacco smoke, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. The findings, recently published online and scheduled to appear in the October issue of Infection and Immunity, suggest one mechanism that may cause smokers to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"Although smoking is the overwhelming cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), only 20 percent of smokers develop the disease," said Brian Day, senior author on the study and Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health. "Our findings suggest that Mycoplasma pneumoniae (Mp) infection may be one of the co-factors that lead to COPD and other diseases among smokers."
Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,700 chemicals, which generate approximately 100 trillion reactive molecules per puff. Those molecules, known as reactive species, can damage lung tissue by chemically reacting with DNA, cell membranes and other molecules in the lung.
It has long been known that the lungs mount a strong protective response against tobacco smoke, which the National Jewish researchers confirmed in their studies in mice and cell cultures. They found that mice exposed to tobacco smoke for 16 weeks doubled the amount of the antioxidant glutathione in the fluid bathing the airways. The antioxidant reacts with the reactive species in tobacco smoke, thus preventing damaging reactions with lung tissue.
"This natural protective response actually allows people to smoke," said Day. "Without it, all smokers would suffer significantly more lung damage."
Previous work in Dr. Day's lab had suggested that lung infections might affect the lung's protective response. And work in Dr. Richard Martin's lab at National Jewish has implicated the organism Mycoplasma pneumoniae (Mp) in worsening asthma. Mp is a common lung pathogen and the most common cause of pneu
|Contact: William Allstetter|
National Jewish Medical and Research Center