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Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Dec 15;184(12):1358-66. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201105-0802OC. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

Telomere dysfunction causes sustained inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Hôpital Henri Mondor, Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, Créteil, France.



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is associated with chronic inflammation of unknown pathogenesis.


To investigate whether telomere dysfunction and senescence of pulmonary vascular endothelial cells (P-ECs) induce inflammation in COPD.


Prospective comparison of patients with COPD and age- and sex-matched control smokers. Investigation of mice null for telomerase reverse transcriptase (Tert) or telomerase RNA component (Terc) genes.


In situ lung specimen studies showed a higher percentage of senescent P-ECs stained for p16 and p21 in patients with COPD than in control subjects. Cultured P-ECs from patients with COPD exhibited early replicative senescence, with decreased cell-population doublings, a higher percentage of β-galactosidase-positive cells, reduced telomerase activity, shorter telomeres, and higher p16 and p21 mRNA levels at an early cell passage compared with control subjects. Senescent P-ECs released cytokines and mediators: the levels of IL-6, IL-8, monocyte chemotactic protein (MCP)-1, Hu-GRO, and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule (sICAM)-1 were elevated in the media of P-ECs from patients compared with control subjects at an early cell passage, in proportion to the senescent P-EC increase and telomere shortening. Up-regulation of MCP-1 and sICAM-1 led to increased monocyte adherence and migration. The elevated MCP-1, IL-8, Hu-GROα, and ICAM-1 levels measured in lungs from patients compared with control subjects correlated with P-EC senescence criteria and telomere length. In Tert(-/-) and/or Terc(-/-) mouse lungs, levels of the corresponding cytokines (MCP-1, IL-8, Hu-GROα, and ICAM-1) were also altered, despite the absence of external stimuli and in proportion to telomere dysfunction.


Telomere dysfunction and premature P-EC senescence are major processes perpetuating lung inflammation in COPD.

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