Scientists from two independent teams have discovered a strand of DNA that is associated with a dramatic increase in the risk of coronary heart disease and doubles the chances of younger people suffering a heart attack prematurely.
The high-risk stretch of genes is common among Caucasian populations, with up to a quarter carrying copies that boost the risk of heart disease by 40% and increase the lifetime risk of a heart attack by 60%.
Early-onset heart attacks, occurring in men under 50 and women under 60, were found to be twice as likely among those who inherited the high-risk gene sequence from both their mother and father.
The strand of DNA, reported in the prestigious US journal Science today, is believed to be the most important genetic factor for heart disease yet found.
Two research teams were involved in the newly reported results. One team, a Reykjavik-based biotech company called deCODE, hopes to have a test for the gene variant on chromosome 9p21 available by the end of the year, to identify people most at risk of developing heart disease later in life.
Another team in Canada, led by Ruth McPherson at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, studied 23,000 participants and published the results in Science. The researchers identified a common allele (DNA coding) on Chromosome 9 associated with coronary heart disease. Homozygotes (people with two identical genes on corresponding chromosomes) for the risk allele comprise 20-25% of Caucasians and have an approximate 30-40% increased risk of CHD.
A person’s familial history of heart disease is still the best predictor of their risk of heart attack.
deCODE (official site)
McPherson R, Pertsemlidis A, Kavaslar N, Stewart A, Roberts R, Cox DR, Hinds DA, Pennacchio LA, Tybjaerg-Hansen A, Folsom AR, Boerwinkle E, Hobbs HH, Cohen JC. A Common Allele on Chromosome 9 Associated with Coronary Heart Disease. Science. 2007 May 3; [Epub ahead of print].