12 October 2023

Scientists have figured out how to treat the heart with two vitamins at the genetic level

Scientists have identified new genes linked to calcium buildup in coronary arteries.

Researchers have identified previously unknown genes associated with calcium accumulation in coronary arteries, which is a predictor of future heart disease. They found that some of them can be targeted with existing drugs or supplements. The study potentially opens new avenues for preventing coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in developed countries. It is primarily caused by atherosclerosis, the accumulation of plaque on the walls of arteries. Coronary artery calcification (CAC), the presence of calcium in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle, is an early sign of coronary heart disease.

Despite the heritability of CAC, which is estimated at 30-40%, until now scientists have identified only a few genes that contribute to the disease. Now, researchers at the University of Virginia have further explored the genetic factors that influence calcium buildup in the coronary arteries.

The researchers conducted the largest meta-analysis to date of a genome-wide association study (genome-wide association study, GWAS), examining data from 26,909 people of European descent and 8,867 people of African descent. They identified 43 candidate genes for CSA in 11 different chromosomal territories. Eight of these had not previously been associated with CAC, and five had no history of coronary heart disease.

One of the genes, ENPP1, is altered in rare forms of arterial calcification in infants. The scientists identified genes involved in the adenosine (suppresses arterial calcification) signaling pathway. To confirm their findings, they tested the genes in human coronary artery tissue and smooth muscle cells and demonstrated a direct effect on calcification and related cellular processes.

The researchers also analyzed the feasibility of drugs across 11 risk loci to explore the potential clinical value of candidate CAC genes. Several genes associated with the abnormality were found to be targets of drug interactions or nutritional supplements such as vitamins C and D.

Further research is needed to determine how best to target these genes and their pathways.

The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.
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