Genes play a crucial role in enlarged hearts, which may be a risk factor for heart attacks, researchers from the Medical Research Council's Clinical Sciences Centre and the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, London, have found.
Reasons like strenuous exercise, high blood pressure and obesity might attribute to develop irregular heart growth, but scientists have for the first time linked enlarged hearts with a gene, osteoglycin (Ogn) - a finding they claim would help in developing new treatments for the condition.
The scientists carried out their study on rodents and some 30 humans, reports BBC.
They found that Ogn regulated the growth of the heart's main pumping chamber, its left ventricle and thus played an important role in heart function. The heart can become enlarged if this gene behaves abnormally, and thus puts the person at an increased risk of common heart diseases and heart attacks.
Enlarged hearts are usually found in people who are obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure. However, it can even occur in elite athletes who don't have even one of the mentioned problems. That's what was diagnosed in the post-mortem of Cameroon football midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, who died in 2003 after collapsing during an international match in France.
The researchers pointed out that the only treatment option available in today's date was lowering the blood pressure and this discovery could lead to new and more effective ways of treating people
"But, now that we are unravelling how genes control heart growth, we can gain a better understanding of common forms of heart disease. This could lead to new and more effective ways of treating people," said Dr Stuart Cook, one of the study authors.
The genetic link to enlarged hearts has earlier been found through a work at University College, London, suggesting that genes involved in metabolism may also be linked to the condition.
"When a person's heart is continually struggling to meet demand - for example following damage by a heart attack - it may enlarge, lose its elasticity and not pump efficiently. These researchers have used highly advanced technology to discover a new gene - osteoglycin - that is important in controlling heart growth in these conditions. Osteoglycin is now a potential target to aim for with future therapies," said associate medical director Professor Jeremy Pearson.