HSS Scientist Wins Grant to Uncover Link Between Smoking and RA

Adapted from the Spring 2014 issue of Discovery to Recovery


HSS scientist Alessandra Pernis, MD, Peter Jay Sharp Chair in Lupus Research, has received a new Innovative Research Grant of $400,000 from the Rheumatology Research Foundation to uncover the link between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The adverse health effects of cigarette smoking are well known with respect to lung disease, cancer and heart disease. Studies have shown that smoking is also an environmental risk factor for the development of RA.

Dr. Pernis will investigate how and why smoking increases an individual’s risk for developing RA with the goal of improving treatment options for patients. “The mechanisms linking exposure to cigarette smoke to RA are not fully understood,” Dr. Pernis says. “Given that tobacco exposure could influence not only the development and severity of RA, but also the responsiveness of RA patients to therapy, understanding these mechanisms could provide important insights into specific treatments that might be effective.”

Cigarette smoking has been shown to activate a family of molecules known as ROCKs. With support from the NIH and others, Dr. Pernis and colleagues previously found that abnormal activation of the ROCKs occurs in mice in which arthritis has spontaneously developed. In addition, Dr. Pernis and colleagues discovered that the administration of inhibitors that block the activity of the ROCKs reduced the development and severity of arthritis in mice.

“Our study will provide a better understanding of whether exposure to cigarette smoke can trigger and/or exacerbate RA by activating the ROCKs,” Dr. Pernis says. “Therapies that inhibit these molecules are in development for the treatment of cardiovascular disorders and, so far, have demonstrated only minimal side effects. Therefore, this knowledge could be rapidly translated into novel therapies for patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have a history of tobacco exposure.”

Read the full Discovery to Recovery Spring 2014 issue.

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Alessandra Pernis, MD

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