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Age-Related Inflammatory Processes Facilitate Development of COPD


At present, there is a lack of effective treatments that target the causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Scientists of the Comprehensive Pneumology Center (CPC) at Helmholtz Zentrum München are therefore investigating the molecular causes of COPD in order to intervene specifically. A recently published study in the journal Oncotarget is a contribution to understanding the underlying causes of COPD, especially in the elderly population.

Inflammatory processes in lung tissue play a crucial role in the development of COPD. The main cause is assumed to be a reaction of lung tissue to chronic exposure to toxic gases or particles such as from cigarette smoke.

Picture: Dr. Ali Önder Yildirim and Dr. Gerrit John-Schuster

Source: HMGU

This results in excessive mucus production, cough and remodeling processes in the airways as well as the loss of alveoli, which are therefore no longer available for gas exchange. Increased activation of the immune system appear to be involved in these processes because the immune cell count in the lungs of COPD patients is significantly elevated.

Furthermore, premature aging of the lung cells is considered a factor favoring the development of COPD. To investigate this further, the research team led by Dr. Ali Önder Yildirim, Dr. Gerrit John-Schuster and Prof. Dr. Oliver Eickelberg at the CPC studied the influence of cells of the immune system on the development of COPD.

They demonstrated in an animal model that there is an association between advancing age and increased inflammation processes, especially if the lung is additionally exposed to cigarette smoke. “Our results show that age-related inflammatory changes play an important role in accelerated COPD development,” said first author John-Schuster.

“The current scientific consensus is that both aging and cigarette smoke facilitate the development of COPD. However, the mechanisms that lead to this remain unclear,” said study leader Yildirim. “We have shown for the first time that the immune response, especially in the aged lung, plays an essential role in the pathogenesis of the disease. This provides us with new directions for the development of innovative approaches to treatment.”

Further Information

Original Publication:
John-Schuster, G. et al. (2015). Inflammaging increases susceptibility to cigarette smoke-induced COPD, Oncotarget, 5

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.

The Comprehensive Pneumology Center (CPC) is a joint research project of the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Clinic Complex and the Asklepios Fachkliniken München-Gauting. The CPC's objective is to conduct research on chronic lung diseases in order to develop new diagnosis and therapy strategies. The CPC maintains a focus on experimental pneumology with the investigation of cellular, molecular and immunological mechanisms involved in lung diseases. The CPC is a site of the Deutsches Zentrum für Lungenforschung (DZL).

Contact for the media:
Department of Communication, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Phone: +49-(0)89-3187-2238 - Fax: +49 89-3187-3324 - Email:

Scientific contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München:
Dr. Ali Önder Yildirim, Helmholtz Zentrum München Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (GmbH), Institut für Lungenbiologie, Comprehensive Pneumology Center - Email:
Location Neuherberg: Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Phone: +49-89-3187-4037

Weitere Informationen: - Link to the press release - Website Helmholtz Zentrum München - Website Institute of Lung Biology and Disease

Kommunikation | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

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