Science News

Genes, stress and death

Wed, 8th Jan 2014

Kat Arney

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Researchers in the US have discovered that a gene variation that makes some people extra-sensitive to stress could also boost the risk of heart attack and death in people with heart disease. Publishing their findings in the journal PLOS ONE, the team focused on variations in the 5HTR2C gene, which encodes a serotonin receptor that’s involved in responses to stress. People with a particular variation of the receptor are highly susceptible to the effects of the so-called ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.

Cortisol is also involved in inflammation, metabolism and other factors that play a role in heart disease, so the scientists analysed DNA from more than 6,000 patients with heart disease. they found that people with the gene variation that increased their stress responses also had the highest rates of heart attacks and deaths over the six years of the study, even when other factors like age, weight and smoking were taken into account.

The scientists think their research could help identify people at greater risk of heart attacks, who might benefit from more intensive prevention and treatment options.

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