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Air Pollution, Other Environmental Factors Affect COPD, Asthma More than Genetics, Study Says

A new study published in Nature Communications, has revealed that air pollution and additional environmental factors may influence respiratory disease-related genes, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, more so than genetic ancestry.

52018002The study entitled, “Gene-by-environment interactions in urban populations modulate risk phenotypes,” focused on examining data gathered on more than 1,000 individuals from Montreal, Quebec City and Saguenay, as well as analyzing environmental datasets, biological samples and health questionnaires.

As was one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers investigated the connection of environmental factors and gene expression. The study evaluated each patient’s “genetic, health, and disease information” which was then linked to environmental data that may have impacted gene expression, such as “air pollution, the area’s walkability, and access to food.” In turn, the study provided significant insight into the genetic characterization of the individuals.

“We were surprised to find that we were able to stratify genetic ancestry within Quebec, identifying individuals whose descendants were from Montreal versus Saguenay, for example,” said Philip Awadalla, PhD, the study’s senior author. “This helped us to show how most gene expression is not derived by ancestry, and that environmental exposures associated with living in a particular city or region are more impactful on gene expression associated with disease traits than heritable variation.”

Throughout the study, researchers discovered that high levels of exposure to “particulate matter and nitrous dioxide” were documented to have had impacted individual’s “gene expression associated with respiratory function and oxygen pathways.” This, in turn, resulted in an increased rate of respiratory diseases, including COPD. The study also revealed that “certain genetic variants determine how one’s gene expression responds to environmental stimuli.”

“Our findings demonstrate how the local environment directly affects disease risk phenotypes and that genetic variation, including less common variants, can modulate individual’s response to environmental challenges,” said the researchers.

“Today, with quantities of data never before available, we are able to make important discoveries that will help us fight and overcome disease,” said Reza Moridi, Ontario’s Minister of Research, Innovation and Science.

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