Like Father Like Son? Y Chromosome Linked to Heart Disease

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Dad may be credited with more than just your facial features. A new study suggests that heart disease risk may be passed from father to son.

The study, published in The Lancet, analyzed data on more than 3,200 men enrolled in several British heart disease studies. The researchers focused on genetic markers on the Y chromosome — which is present only in male DNA (women have two X chromosomes) — and found that men with a certain genetic variant were 50% more likely to have coronary artery disease than those without it.

The increased risk was independent of other contributors to heart disease such as age, weight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

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It’s not clear why this particular genetic signature may increase heart risk, but the researchers speculated that it has to do with its influence on inflammation and immunity. Reported Scientific American:

The genetic variant came with altered patterns of regulation in 19 key pathways — all of which were linked to immune and inflammatory responses. These differences might play a role in atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries, noted the researchers, who were led by Fadi Charchar, of Australia’s University of Ballarat. “Dysfunction of immune response is a well established contributor to atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease,” they wrote.

The findings do not suggest that the variant accounts fully for men’s heart disease risk, or that scanning Y chromosomes would help predict an individual man’s risk of developing coronary artery disease. But the association offers an interesting avenue for further scientific inquiry.

The study is exciting for researchers because it gives the role of the Y chromosome new meaning. “The major novelty of these findings is that the human Y chromosome appears to play a role in the cardiovascular system beyond its traditionally perceived determination of male sex,” said principal investigator Dr. Maciej Tomaszewski, a clinical senior lecturer in the University of Leicester department of cardiovascular sciences, in a statement.

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Overall, men get heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier and twice as often as women. After menopause, however, women’s risk of heart disease creeps closer to that of men, and heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women.