Friday, July 8, 2016
Inflammatory mechanisms in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
C-O-P-D (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a series of four letters that strikes terror in the hearts (and lungs) of millions throughout the world. It’s a condition in which there is chronic inflammation within the lungs that leads to their destruction, causing problems in breathing.While the consequences of COPD have been long known, the immunology behind it is still largely unknown. In this month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Dr. Barnes reviews the inflammatory mechanisms behind COPD (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 138(1): 16-27).
As he mentions, one of the difficulties behind figuring out how immune dysfunction causes COPD is that COPD doesn’t seem to be a single disease. Different types of immune cells and mediators seem to be involved in different ways in different patients, and our knowledge continues to grow about how we can tease apart all these endotypes and phenotypes.
However, some common themes are emerging. Patients with COPD have lower levels of anti-oxidants, leading to excess reactive oxygen species (ROS), which, in turn, trigger the inflammatory response. These ROS may also promote lung cancer by activating growth factors and damaging DNA directly. The other major common theme is that there is systemic inflammation that “spills over” to cause an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, and pneumonia.
Currently, we don’t have treatments to help reverse the damage from COPD, and most of our efforts remain in prevention and control of symptoms. But with greater knowledge on the roles immune system, we may be able to help people, who have been diagnosed with COPD to regain control of their lungs, and their lives.