Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the third leading cause of death worldwide. Gene expression profiling across multiple regions of the same lung identified genes significantly related to emphysema. We sought to determine whether the lung and epithelial expression of 127 emphysema-related genes was also related to lung function in independent cohorts, and whether any of these genes could be used as biomarkers in the peripheral blood of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To that end, we examined whether the expression levels of these genes were under genetic control in lung tissue (n = 1,111). We then determined whether the mRNA levels of these genes in lung tissue (n = 727), small airway epithelial cells (n = 238), and peripheral blood (n = 620) were significantly related to lung function measurements. The expression of 63 of the 127 genes (50%) was under genetic control in lung tissue. The lung and epithelial mRNA expression of a subset of the emphysema-associated genes, including ASRGL1, LPHN2, and EDNRB, was strongly associated with lung function. In peripheral blood, the expression of 40 genes was significantly associated with lung function. Twenty-nine of these genes (73%) were also associated with lung function in lung tissue, but with the opposite direction of effect for 24 of the 29 genes, including those involved in hypoxia and B cell-related responses. The integrative genomics approach uncovered a significant overlap of emphysema genes associations with lung function between lung and blood with opposite directions between the two. These results support the use of peripheral blood to detect disease biomarkers.
Keywords: FEV1; biomarker; blood; lung; mRNA.