Scientists have identified new gene variants associated with an increased risk for heart attack.
The international team of researchers behind this work say that the identified genes and their underlying mechanisms provide new starting points for understanding genetic patterns in heart attack, and for developing new treatment options.
One of their findings is that the heart attack risk is more than twice as great in individuals who carry not only one but several of the genetic markers.
The team, including researchers from Germany's University of Lubeck and Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, performed a genome-wide scan of thousands of patients with hundreds of thousands of genetic markers.
The researchers included in their studies heart attack patients from the KORA study as well as healthy control persons from the population.
"The future challenge for us will be to integrate the insights we have gained about genetic factors and lifestyle factors in order to provide effective preventive measures for the population," said Prof. Dr. Annette Peters, research group leader at Helmholtz Zentrum M|nchen.
The first of the three studies investigated a million genetic markers in 1,200 MI patients and the same number of healthy test persons, while subsequent control studies on an additional 25,000 patients and healthy persons confirmed the initial suspicion: Culprit genes for MI are located on chromosomes 3 and 12. Scientists suspect that one of these genes, the MRAS gene, plays an important role in cardiovascular biology.
The second gene, the HNF1A gene, is closely associated with cholesterol metabolism.
The researchers not only studied individual genetic markers as to their influence on the risk of heart attack, but they also investigated combinations of up to ten neighbouring markers, believing that the approach could enable them to derive additional genetic information.
Thus, they were able to identify another region, this time localized on chromosome 6, which is associated with heart attack risk. The LPA gene at this locus regulates the concentration of a specific lipoprotein (Lp(a)), a particle which transports lipids in the blood. This finding, too, may be useful in the future for developing new therapeutic interventions.
The third study was able to identify three further, previously unknown MI genes on chromosomes 2, 6 and 21. It also showed that in individuals with not just one but several genetic markers, the heart attack risk was more than double.
The higher the number of disease genes now identified, the higher the disease risk.
The researchers say that the newly gained knowledge will aid in assessing the risk for heart attack in order to develop preventive and early intervention strategies.
They say that their findings suggest that there may be many mechanisms involved in heart attack that are still to be discovered.