Genetic study offers vital clues on cause of heart rhythm problems

Posted by vm64 at Nov 15, 2010 09:54 AM |
Scientists have pinpointed genes that control our heartbeat in a study that could help explain how heart rhythm problems develop.

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 November 2010

An international team of researchers has uncovered several DNA changes associated with the electrical impulses that make the heart beat.

The findings, reported today in Nature Genetics, pave the way for a greater understanding of abnormal heart rhythms.

Normally, signals start from specialised muscle cells, travel across the heart and cause rhythmical muscle contractions – a system called cardiac conduction. 

The signals register as the pulsating wave seen on the ECG and on heart monitors. 

Abnormalities in cardiac conduction, particularly in the ventricles of the heart, can be dangerous.  When severe, cardiac pacemakers must be fitted to patients to ensure regular cardiac electrical activity throughout the heart.  

Abnormal ventricular conduction also makes people more susceptible to heart failure, sudden death, and death due to heart disease.

Researchers have known for some time that genetic factors contribute to electrical activity in the heart, including conduction of the electrical signal throughout the heart chambers.

This study identified several previously unsuspected regions in the genome that are associated with cardiac electrical activity.

The research was led by the University of Washington and involved more than 100 scientists in the UK, Europe and USA, including teams at the universities of Leicester, Edinburgh,and Glasgow.

The study was based on genetic information from over 50,000 individuals.

Researchers were able to identify genetic associations with cardiac ventricular conduction in 22 regions of the genome.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the British Heart Foundation, the Chief Scientist Office and the Royal Society.

Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester and one of the principal investigators on the study said: “This study demonstrates the great potential of modern genetics to help us better understand how our heart's electrical system works at the molecular level. This is very important as heart conduction abnormalities increase the risk of heart failure and sudden death: this knowledge will be used in the hunt for new treatments.”

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