50+ health * Healthy living

Heart rhythm gene discovered

Zone default image Linked to sudden cardiac death

UK scientists have discovered a gene which regulates heart rhythm. The discovery could help scientists design better drugs to prevent and treat people with certain heart problems.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and kills almost seven million people each year. Over half of the deaths occur suddenly and are caused by heart rhythm disorders such as ventricular fibrillation.

In the UK alone, around 100,000 people die each year due to sudden cardiac arrest, caused by heart rhythm disorders.

Now a team of scientists from Imperial College London have found a mutation on a gene which may increase a person's risk of having a heart rhythm disorder.

In the study, scientists analysed the genetic make-up of almost 20,000 people to look for genetic factors which may influence heart beat.

They studied the electrocardiogram (a recording of the heartbeat) of each person, and measured the time taken for electrical signals to travel to different parts of the heart.

The researchers found a variation in a gene called SCN10A was associated with slow and irregular heart rhythm, including risk of ventricular fibrillation and sudden death.

The gene identified is involved in controlling electrical signals to the heart.

The scientists said having the genetic mutation has a modest effect on a person's risk of having heart rhythm problems and further research is needed to find out what other mutations exist in the same gene as they may have a stronger effect.

The researchers, funded by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC and the British Heart Foundation, said they hope their findings will help scientists develop new ways to prevent and treat heart rhythm disorders.

Dr John Chambers, lead author of the study from the Division of Epidemiology, Public Health and Primary Care at Imperial College London, said: "Genetic variation is like the two sides of a coin.

"One side is associated with increased risk, the other with decreased risk. We have identified a gene that influences heart rhythm, and people with different variants of the gene will have increased or decreased risks of developing heart rhythm problems.

"Though the gene variant itself may only have a small effect on a person's risk of having heart rhythm problems, our study gives us important new insight into the mechanisms affecting disordered heart rhythm."

Professor Jaspal S Kooner from Imperial College and study co-author, added: "These results may enable us to predict and diagnose serious heart rhythm disturbances better, and in the future develop improved treatments for preventing ventricular fibrillation, which is a leading cause of death worldwide."

The research is published in Nature Genetics.

This article was published on Mon 11 January 2010

Image © beerkoff - Fotolia.com

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