New heart attack genes discovered

7 March 2016        

Colourful imaging of a fatty plaque which has accumulated in an artery

Scientists have discovered two new genes which are associated with a person’s risk of coronary heart disease in an international collaboration involving BHF and NIHR-funded researchers. The findings could lead to new statin-like treatments to prevent heart attacks.

The researchers looked at the DNA of more than 190,000 people. This included those collected part of the BHF Family Heart Study, which was led by BHF Sir Professor Nilesh Samani  and retired BHF Professor Stephen Ball between 2000 and 2005.

The findings

The researchers found that changes in the DNA which altered a gene called ANGPTL4 were associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), while errors in the SVEP1 gene were linked to an increased risk of CHD. CHD is responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths every year, making it the UK’s single biggest killer. Most deaths from CHD are caused by a heart attack.

The science

ANGPTL4 affects triglyceride levels by blocking an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) involved in removing a type of fat, called triglycerides, from the blood stream. The researchers also discovered a non-functioning form of the ANGPTL4 gene. People with this form of ANGPTL4 also had significantly reduced triglyceride levels in the bloodstream and a 53 per cent lower risk of CHD.

The mechanism by which alterations in the SVEP1 gene affects CHD risk, in contrast, remains a mystery. The function of the SVEP1 gene is poorly understood. The researchers found a small association between the SVEP1 alterations and higher blood pressure, a major risk factor for CHD, but whether this is sufficient to explain the effect on CHD risk is unclear.

International efforts

The research was a collaboration between BHF-funded researchers at the University of Leicester, also supported by the NIHR, the University of Glasgow, and principal researchers at the Broad Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Technical University of Munich and University of Lubeck in Germany, Queen Mary University London and University of Cambridge, and several others.

Next steps

Professor Nilesh SamaniDr Shannon Amoils, our Senior Research Advisor said: "The findings prove alterations in ANGPTL4 are directly linked with reduced levels of triglyceride, as well as a reduced risk of CHD. This adds to the body of evidence linking triglycerides with CHD."

BHF Professor Sir Nilesh Samani (pictured), from the University of Leicester, added: "Going forward we hope that we will be able to use this new information to develop new therapies to reduce a person’s likelihood of developing coronary heart disease and, ultimately, of having a heart attack."

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