Transcriptomic alterations underlying pathogenesis and carcinogenesis in COPD
Kantrowitz, Jacob Josef
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and is a risk factor for lung cancer development. COPD encompasses both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the pathogenesis of which are unclear. In this dissertation, I leveraged genome-wide gene-expression studies of emphysema and lung cancer to investigate pathogenesis and carcinogenesis in COPD. Tobacco smoke is the primary cause of emphysema. The most severe form is also associated with alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) resulting from a mutation. In this study, I leveraged multiple lung samples from patients with emphysema, with or without AATD. While genes involved in tissue repair decreased with emphysema severity, the unfolded protein response (UPR) was uniquely changed in AATD lungs. AATD may play multiple roles in emphysema and UPR activation suggests AAT replacement therapy may be insufficient to treat this form of emphysema. Emphysema is a progressive disease, and the mean linear intercept (Lm) can serve as a surrogate of progression. I evaluated whether Lm increases in non-diseased lungs may represent similar processes to those occurring in emphysema, and could offer insight into early stages of disease or homeostasis. Genes involved in tissue repair increased with Lm in controls but decreased in disease. Tissue repair processes may be active in even the non-insulted lung, suggesting their activity is necessary for lung homeostasis and their deficiency may drive emphysema progression. Finally, COPD patients are at increased lung cancer risk, and transcriptomic changes common to both diseases could explain this risk. In both COPD and lung cancer, I discovered that H3K27Me3 regulated genes are repressed, and that the methyltransferase responsible for H3K27me3, EZH2, is induced. H3K27Me3, an oncogenic histone modification, may drive carcinogenesis and pathogenesis in COPD. Though usual and AATD emphysema share transcriptomic signatures associated with tissue repair, which may be active in the normal homeostatic lung, the UPR changes in AATD emphysema only; successful therapeutic strategies in emphysema will need to account for this difference. In COPD, H3K27Me3 may play a role in both pathogenesis and carcinogenesis, making it an attractive target for therapeutic interventions, but one that would need further augmentation in AATD.