Navigation path

Headlines Published on 05 March 2012

Title Scientists find genetic link for coronary heart disease

An international team of researchers led by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom has identified a genetic link for coronary artery disease (also called coronary heart disease). The results of the study, presented in the journal The Lancet, demonstrate how a father passes on to his son a common heart disease that kills thousands each year. The study was supported in part by a grant under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

The Y chromosome influences how a father passes on coronary heart disease to his son © Shutterstock
The Y chromosome influences how a father passes on coronary heart disease to his son
©  Shutterstock

The researchers discovered that the Y chromosome, which is a part of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) found only in men, influences how a man passes on coronary heart disease to his son. This disease describes the narrowing of blood vessels delivering blood to the heart. The lack of oxygen to the heart triggers various symptoms including chest constriction and heart attack.

According to the British Heart Foundation, more than 88 000 deaths in the United Kingdom in 2008 resulted from coronary heart disease: more than 49 000 were among men and some 38 000 among women.

In this latest study, the DNA of more than 3 000 men from the British Heart Foundation Family Heart Study (BHF-FHS) and the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS) was evaluated. Their data show that 90% of British Y chromosomes belong to 1 of 2 major groups: haplogroup I and haplogroup R1b1b2.

There is a 50% higher chance of being diagnosed with coronary heart disease in men who carry a Y chromosome from haplogroup 1. The researchers point out that the risk is independent of traditional risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

The higher risk is contingent on how haplogroup 1 affects the immune system and inflammation, in order words, how our bodies respond to infections.

'We are very excited about these findings as they put the Y chromosome on the map of genetic susceptibility to coronary artery disease,' explains lead investigator and senior author Dr Maciej Tomaszewski, a clinical senior lecturer from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester. 'We wish to further analyse the human Y chromosome to find specific genes and variants that drive this association.'

He adds: 'The major novelty of these findings is that the human Y chromosome appears to play a role in the cardiovascular system beyond its traditionally perceived determination of male sex. The University of Leicester has been at the forefront of genetic research for many years. The success of this study builds up on excellence of support for genetic studies in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and the Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit.'

Researchers from King's College London, the University of Glasgow, the University of Leeds, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge, all from the United Kingdom, as well as the University of Ballarat and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, the University of Lübeck and the University of Regensburg in Germany, and the Pierre and Marie Curie University and Medical School in France contributed to this study.

More information:

  • University of Leicester
  • The Lancet