Is there a 'link' between heart failure, our genes and our environment? If yes, then researchers at Cambridge University claim to have located it.
Their study could open up completely new ways of managing and treating heart disease.
In their research, they compared heart tissue from two groups - patients with end-stage heart failure and those with healthy hearts.
The diseased tissue came from men who had undergone heart transplants at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, and the healthy hearts from age-matched victims of road traffic accidents.
And the researchers found that specific regions of the DNA in the diseased hearts contained "marks" known as DNA methylation, whereas the healthy hearts did not.
This is the first study linking DNA methylation with human heart failure.
DNA methylation is already known to play a key part in development of most cancers, and its role in other complex diseases such as schizophrenia and diabetes is being investigated.
The study has indicated that the process also underlies development of different types of heart disease.
"DNA methylation leaves 'marks' on the genome, and there is already good evidence that these marks are strongly influenced by environment and diet. We found that this process is different in diseased and normal hearts. Linking all these things together suggests this may be the 'missing link' between environmental factors and heart failure," said lead author Dr Roger Foo.
The findings deepen our understanding of the genetic changes that can lead to heart disease, and how these can be caused by diet and the environment.
Thus, the findings should open up new ways of managing and treating heart disease.
"The next stage of our research is to find hotspots in the genome. This should help us identify people at risk of heart disease, and pinpoint patients whose disease will progress fastest. This would radically alter how we manage patients with heart disease, allowing us to target treatments and tailor monitoring," explained Foo.
The study has been published in PLoS ONE.