Study links 13 new gene regions to coronary atherosclerosis

September 02, 2017

Interestingly, only three of the 13 new gene regions appear to be linked to coronary atherosclerosis through traditional risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity. "This leaves open the possibility that many of the other gene regions are pointing to biological processes in the vessel wall that are reacting to the plaque-promoting effects of traditional risk factors," said Assimes.

"Cancer geneticists and cancer biologists have had access to the genes that are associated with cancer and have made a lot of progress," Quertermous said. "We've been slow in understanding the molecular pathways associated with the disease process in the walls of blood vessels. Studying the function of the genes in these gene regions should teach us how we can block the process of plaque development in the vessel wall. Currently there are no drugs that directly target the vessel wall," he said. "Heart disease drugs, such as statins and beta blockers, or blood pressure medications target bad cholesterol or hypertension and other risk factors but not necessarily the molecular mechanisms that are directly responsible for forming plaque.

"I've been waiting my entire life to see the names of these genes," said Quertermous, who has worked in the field for 20 years. "We are making huge progress but there is much work left to do."

The researchers indicated that the next steps would be to push forward with more meta-analyses of existing genome data to uncover yet more novel gene regions and to sequence the established gene regions in a large number of individuals. The latter will likely identify less common genetic mistakes in these same gene regions that also predispose to coronary disease. These efforts are ongoing and are expected to further improve the ability to reliably predict who will have a heart attack and to develop new life-saving drugs.

Source: Stanford University Medical Center