Science News

Gender gene clues to heart disease

Thu, 7th Feb 2013

Kat Arney

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As we approach Valentine’s day, much is made of the difference between the behaviour of men’s and women’s hearts in the romantic sense. But in purely biological terms there’s little difference between these organs, except for small differences in the electrical signals they produce. Now researchers at Washington University in St Louis have managed to track down some important molecular differences in human hearts from both sexes that could lead to more personalised treatment for cardiac problems in the future.

Publishing their results in the journal PLoS One, the researchers looked at samples taken from 34 human hearts from people that were either receiving a heart transplant following heart failure, or whose healthy hearts had been rejected for transplantation, and looked at nearly 90 important genes involved in heart rhythms and other functions. They found major differences in the activity levels of many key genes in the atria - the chambers at the top of the heart - rather than the lower chambers, or ventricles. Overall men had higher levels of activity of nearly all the genes, while women with failing hearts had unusually low levels of gene activity - in some cases less than half of that seen in men.

The scientists hope their findings will shed light on how best to treat men and women with heart failure.

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