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Heart attack gene discovery

1 December 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 236

US researchers have identified a gene, which, when altered, causes coronary artery disease and triggers heart attacks. Scientists at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that all members of an extended Iowa family who inherited a mutated MEF2A gene were affected by the disease, whereas all those who inherited a normal version of the gene were unaffected. 'This is the first heart attack gene' said team leader Eric J Topol.

Coronary artery disease refers to a 'thickening' of the inside wall of the arteries that supply the heart with blood, usually caused by a build-up of cholesterol. If a blood clot arises and becomes trapped in the narrowed artery, then the condition can lead to a heart attack. People with a family history of the disease are known to be at increased risk of having a heart attack, although factors such as weight, diabetes and smoking also play a role. Topol and his colleagues decided to try and track down genetic factors that might trigger heart attacks by studying a large family affected by the disorder. Thirteen had coronary artery disease, and nine of these had suffered a heart attack.

The scientists found that affected family members had all inherited a faulty version of a known gene called MEF2A. It seems that MEF2A makes a protein vital for the growth of cell 'linings' found in the body, including the inside wall of the arteries. The mutated version inherited by the patients in the Cleveland study, published in the journal Science, could result in thickened, clogged arteries. The team now plan to see if mutations in MEF2A, or other genes that it interacts with, are present in unrelated heart attack patients. 'We have learned from other genetic studies that once you get the first gene it starts to unlock the whole story' said Topol.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Discovery of heart attack gene may help diagnose risk within families
The Independent |  29 November 2003
Heart attack gene found by researchers
Ananova |  27 November 2003
Mutation of MEF2A in an inherited disorder with features of coronary artery disease
Science |  28 November 2003
Researchers find first heart attack gene
Yahoo Daily News |  27 November 2003
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