Gene to Spot Early Heart Risk

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A US research team led by an Indian-origin doctor has pinpointed a gene that may help identify people who are at risk of suffering a heart attack before they turn 40.

Cardiologist Svati Shah at the Duke University School of Medicine and her colleagues have shown that a variant of the gene called NPY makes people susceptible to early coronary artery disease.

Scientists have known for years that some people are at risk of developing coronary artery disease even in their 30s and that this condition is inherited. But no one had succeeded in identifying the genes involved.

The Duke researchers examined genetic sequences from individuals across 920 families and found that the earliest age of onset of coronary artery disease was associated with a specific variant of the NPY gene.

The researchers are hoping their discovery leads to genetic tests that will allow them to find young people at risk of early heart disease and get them to change their diet or lifestyle to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

“These young patients are a vulnerable population, but they are particularly hard to identify,” said Shah, the lead author of a research paper on the discovery published yesterday in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics. “Such genetic findings may help us in future to identify these patients prior to the development or coronary artery disease or their first heart attack.”

The connection between the gene and early heart disease was even stronger in patients with heart disease before the age of 37. “If a person has the NPY gene variants in one of two copies from the mother and father, then he/she may develop coronary disease earlier,” said Elizabeth Hauser, associate professor of medical genetics at the Duke University.

Studies on mice have confirmed that the NPY gene and its protein are involved in promoting atherosclerosis — the buildup of deposits along walls of the arteries that can choke blood flow to the heart and raise risk of a heart attack.

The Duke team’s work has shown that variants of the NPY gene can be transmitted from generation to generation across a population of patients susceptible to early onset coronary artery disease.

This gene makes an important protein in the body that regulates appetite and feeding behaviour, in addition to other functions. “If you had one or two copies of this version of the gene, there could be a change in NPY level,” Shah said.

Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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