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Surprising Science

Heart Disease Tied to Y Chromosome

A particular version of the sex chromosome predisposes men to contracting heart disease. While environmental factors remain important, an important genetic link has been discovered.

What’s the Latest Development?

In a survey of 3,000 British men, scientists have found an important link between a particular version of the Y sex chromosome and heart disease, meaning the predisposition to illness is passed down from father to son. Researchers found that 90 percent of the men possessed one of two common versions of Y chromosome, named haplogroup I and haplogroup R1b1b2. “And the risk of coronary artery disease among the men carrying the haplogroup I version was 50 percent higher than in other men.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Doctors have known for some time that men exhibit symptoms of heart disease about a decade earlier than women. This new genetic link may help explain why. Scientists will now look at which specific genes on the Y chromosome cause the increased rate of illness. While environmental factors such as diet, exercise and smoking still play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart, researchers hope to develop genetic tests to identify at-risk individuals and to develop new gene therapies tailored to each individual’s genetic makeup.

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