Posted on Feb 06, 2009, 9 a.m.
By gary clark
A University of Iowa study has revealed similarities between people with Werner's syndrome and smokers, helping scientists better understand the mechanisms by which smoke causes damage and premature aging.
The study has shown that a protein lost in people with Werner's syndrome, a rare hereditary premature aging disease, is also decreased in smokers suffering from emphysema. The decrease causes damage to those lung cells that typically heal wounds. This is the first time that a connection has been made between the effects of smoking and the accelerated aging protein, pointing to potential therapeutic targets for smoking-related diseases.
The study, which was published in the Feb. 6 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, focused on "what happens within the lungs because of the similar aging effects, including atherosclerotic diseases and cancer, seen in people with Werner's syndrome and people who smoke," explains Toru Nyunoya, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and a pulmonologist with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
Once they reach puberty, people affected with Werner's syndrome typically begin to exhibit the dramatic, rapid appearance of features associated with normal aging, including graying and loss of hair, a hoarse voice and thin hardened skin. Often they die from cancer or heart disease by the time they reach middle age. Werner's syndrome, which affects an estimated one in 200,000 people in the United States, is more common in Japan, where up to one in 20,000 individuals are affected. Smoking can also accelerate the aging process, potentially shortening life span by as much as 10 years.
"Werner's syndrome involves a genetic mutation that causes a deficiency in what's known as Werner's syndrome protein. The protein normally helps repair DNA damage," Nyunoya explains. "Smoking does not appear to cause the same mutation, but our study showed that it does decrease Werner's syndrome protein. Overall, it may support efforts to target Werner's syndrome protein for use in developing treatments for smoking-related conditions such as emphysema," he adds. The researchers plan to use mouse models to further investigate how smoking effects the Werner's syndrome protein.
News release: Effects of smoking linked to accelerated aging protein. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-02/uoi-eos020409.php February 6, 2009