Treatment with the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin, better known as Zocor, can inhibit the lung damage that occurs with smoking-induced Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to findings from an animal study.
In addition to blocking the formation of cholesterol, “statin” drugs have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, as well as other benefits for blood vessels. In theory, all of these effects could help counter the lung damage caused by cigarette smoking.
To investigate, Dr. Sang-Do Lee, from Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Korea, and colleagues examined the lungs of rats exposed or not exposed to cigarette smoke while being treated with or without simvastatin for 16 weeks.
The researchers’ findings are reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases involving limited airflow and varying degrees of air sac enlargement, airway inflammation, and lung tissue destruction. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common forms of COPD.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The leading cause of COPD is smoking, which can lead to the two most common forms of this disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Prolonged tobacco use causes lung inflammation and variable degrees of air sac (alveoli) destruction. This leads to inflamed and narrowed airways (chronic bronchitis) or permanently enlarged air sacs of the lung with reduced lung elasticity (emphysema). Between 15% and 20% of long-term smokers will develop COPD.
In addition to blocking lung tissue destruction and high blood pressure in the lungs’ circulation, simvastatin inhibited the infiltration of inflammatory cells into pulmonary tissue. As anticipated, the drug also had beneficial effects on blood vessels.
“Taken together, these findings indicate that statins could potentially play a role in the treatment of cigarette smoking-induced COPD,” the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, October 15, 2005.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD