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Molecular Biology of the Lung: Volume I, Emphysema and Infection. Volume II, Asthma and Cancer.
  1. Robert M Senior

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    Stockley RA, ed. (£205.00.) Birkhauser Verlag, 1998. ISBN 3 7643 5969 2.

    About 10 years ago the American Thoracic Society and the American Physiological Society each launched a new journal dedicated to cell and molecular biology of the lung. These actions reflected appreciation of the skyrocketing growth occurring in these areas of lung research. Molecular Biology of the Lung, Volumes I and II, is another indicator of how far the field of lung cell and molecular biology has progressed.

    The subtitles for these volumes, “Emphysema and Infection” for Volume I, and “Asthma and Cancer” for Volume II, show that the study of lung cell and molecular biology has extended to lung diseases. Indeed, “Diseases” could have been added to the book's title after “Lung” to highlight that the overriding focus is on the cell and molecular biology of lung diseases rather than on the normal lung. However, pulmonary clinicians beware! Without considerable grounding in contemporary biology it would be a struggle to comprehend much of what is presented. These chapters are not watered down basic science of disease meant to be enrichment reading for physicians. One indication of the book's seriousness in covering information in depth is the density of text pages relative to figures, tables, and charts. Most chapters have only a few figures; some have none. Another indication is that the references are almost exclusively to original research papers in basic science journals, rather than to reviews or articles in journals typically read by clinicians.

    Each volume leads with an excellent chapter not linked to a single lung disease. In Volume I, the introductory chapter presents principles of making genetically altered mice and in Volume II it covers principles of gene therapy and applicability to specific diseases, such as surfactant protein B deficiency. These themes are taken up in some of the subsequent chapters, for example in the use of transgenic mice to study lung infections, and the application of gene therapy for lung cancer.

    Emphysema is particularly well suited for coverage in a book about lung cell and molecular biology because of the compelling amount of cellular and biochemical data pointing to inflammation and proteinase imbalance as key features of its development. The editor's prominent role in this field clearly shows in the selection of six interesting and authoritative chapters about mouse models of emphysema, serine proteinases, elastase inhibitors, and connective tissue genes. I found the chapter about the regulation of neutrophil proteinases especially informative. Although at least three or four years have elapsed since the chapters in this section were written, judging from the reference lists, they still hold up well in 2000. Similarly favourable comments could probably be made about the other chapters of the book, considering the distinguished authors, but I am less familiar with these other topics than with emphysema.

    Choices are inevitable in selecting topics for a book on such a broad field as the molecular biology of the lung from the perspective of disease. Clearly, this book includes many of the important areas, but one wonders why interstitial lung disease with its intriguing features of fibrosis and inflammation was not included. Also, I would have enjoyed an introduction by the editor so that I could read his overall perspective on the field of lung cell and molecular biology, and his rationale for the topics he chose to include in the book.

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