Feb. 6, 2009 -- Cigarette smoke causes the same cellular defect seen in
people with Werner's syndrome -- a rare genetic disease that makes people age
Smoking speeds the aging process,
causing smokers to die about 10 years before their time. Now researchers may
have found a clue to this process, giving them unexpected new paths to
The clue comes from the observation that smokers aren't the only people who
age too fast. In their 20s, people with a rare genetic disorder called Werner's
syndrome get gray hair, thin skin, and hoarse voices.
Smokers also age prematurely and tend to die of heart disease and cancer.
Might there be a link?
Yes, say University of Iowa researchers Toru Nyunoya, MD, and
Werner's syndrome is caused by a mutation in a gene called WRN. The
gene makes the WRN protein that protects and repairs DNA in every cell of the
Nyunoya and colleagues collected lung cells from smokers with emphysema. Sure enough, the
cells had too little WRN protein. The smokers' WRN genes were normal,
but something was keeping them from making enough WRN.
When the researchers cultured lung cells in the laboratory, they found that
cigarette smoke extract decreased the cell's WRN production -- and made the
cells age more quickly. Cells genetically engineered to make too much WRN were
not as strongly affected by the smoke extract.
"Our study may support efforts to target Werner's syndrome protein for use
in developing treatments for smoking-related conditions such as emphysema,"
Nyunoya said in a news release.
The findings appear in the Feb. 6 issue of the American Journal of
Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.