Smoking changes gene activity: study

21:36, July 16, 2010      

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Women smoke in central Sydney May 11, 2009. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)
Smoking changes a person's gene activity across the body, thus raising the risk of developing various diseases, a new study, published Thursday in the journal Medical Genomics, suggests.

The findings may be a clue to why smoking affects overall health -- from heart disease to combating infections, according to the study conducted by a team of researchers from San Antonio, Texas and the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania in Australia.

The researchers analyzed blood cell samples of 1,240 people, ages 16-94, who were participating in the San Antonio Family Heart Study.

They found that the self-identified smokers in the group -- 297 people -- were more likely to have unusual patterns of "gene expression" related to tumor development, inflammation, virus elimination, cell death and more. A gene is expressed when it codes for a protein that then instructs, or kick-starts, a process in the body.

Cigarette smoking could increase or decrease the level of expression of 323 genes, according to the study.

"On some levels, we were surprised by the extent of the influence exposure to cigarette smoke had on gene expression, especially considering we used such a simple measure of smoke exposure: smoker or non-smoker," said lead author Jac Charlesworth, a research fellow at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania in Australia.

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