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More muscle for the argument to give up smoking

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10 July 2007

Researchers at The University of Nottingham have got more bad news for smokers. Not only does it cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes but smokers will also lose more muscle mass in old age than a non-smoker. The effect of this predisposes smokers to an accelerated decline in physical function and loss of independence.

Research has already established that smokers tend to have a lower muscle mass than non-smokers but no one has been able to explain why.

Now, Michael Rennie, a Professor of Clinical Physiology, and Dr Philip Atherton, a Research Fellow, both from the university's School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health at Derby, have, with collaborators in Denmark and the USA, discovered that smoking impairs the day to day upkeep of muscle. Their research shows that smoking is likely to speed up a condition known as sarcopenia – the loss of muscle mass with ageing which is linked to poor balance, gait speed, falls, and fractures.

16 people took part in the study which was part funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The men and woman in their mid sixties were selected because of their similar lifestyles in terms of alcohol consumption and physical activity.  They were all considered to be healthy, with no symptoms of lung disease. They were studied in two equal groups: heavy smokers, who had smoked at least a pack of 20 cigarettes a day for at least 20 years: and non-smokers.

To measure the synthesis of muscle protein they were given an intravenous infusion of blood with a tagged amino acid (one of the building blocks of protein). Samples of muscle were taken from their thighs before and after the infusion to follow how much had “stuck” in muscle protein. This measured the rate of synthesis of muscle protein which contributes to the daily maintenance of the muscle mass. The researchers found that it was substantially less in smokers than non-smokers.

During extensive studies, carried out in collaboration with Washington University, St Louis and Copenhagen University, Professor Rennie and Dr Atherton discovered that the amounts of myostatin, a muscle growth inhibitor and MAFbx enzyme, which breaks down muscle protein, were higher in smokers than non-smokers.

Dr Philip Atherton said: “From our tests, we can conclude that smoking slows the muscle protein synthesis machinery - probably impairing day to day upkeep of muscle. We are all well aware of the ill affects of smoking on the lungs but our study reveals yet another cause of ill-health associated with smoking. Hopefully the UK smoking ban will encourage people to quit while they are still young, helping them to keep in good health in later life”.

Their research is being presented by Dr Atherton at Life Sciences 2007. This is the first joint meeting of the Biochemical Society, the British Pharmacological Society and The Physiological Society. The event takes place this week in Glasgow until 12th July, 2007.

The full paper describing their work has been published on line in American Journal of Physiology.

ENDS

Notes to editors

More information can be found at http://www.lifesciences2007.org

About The University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is Britain's University of the Year (The Times Higher Awards 2006). It undertakes world-changing research, provides innovative teaching and a student experience of the highest quality. Ranked by Newsweek in the world's Top 75 universities, its academics have won two Nobel Prizes since 2003. The University is an international institution with campuses in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and China.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

External contact

Professor Michael Rennie, The University of Nottingham

tel: 07766 662383

Lindsay Brooke, The University of Nottingham Media and Public Relations Office

tel: 0115 951 5793

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Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
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