Researchers at the Swedish Medical University Karolinska Institutet have identified the genes that may protect against atherosclerosis, the main cause of myocardial infarction and stroke.
One way to treat this disease is to reduce levels of "bad cholesterol" in the blood.
The new study, led by Associate Professor Johan Bjorkegren, has shown that the accumulation of the plaque that causes myocardial infarction and stroke can be prevented if levels of the "bad" LDL cholesterol are reduced before atherosclerotic plaque has progressed beyond a particular point.
And the team of researchers has also identified a network of 37 genes that lowers levels of blood cholesterol and brings about the beneficial effect.
"Previously, much atherosclerosis research was focused on identifying ways to stabilise the most dangerous plaques in order to prevent them rupturing and causing myocardial infarction or stroke. Our discovery means that we can now target the actual development of dangerous plaques," said Bjorkegren.
Rather than covering individual vessel wall genes, their discovery encompasses a network of genes, and one that explains their mutual interaction.
It is on account of years of network algorithm development under Jesper Tegner, professor of computational biology, that the discovery of gene networks has been made possible.
"The time when individual genes or gene pathways were thought to explain the development of complex common diseases, such as atherosclerosis, is past. We now have enough tools and knowledge of system biology to take on the total complexity of these diseases," said Bjorkegren.
The study is published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.