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Men's genes contribute to heart disease risk

February 09, 2012

A study has found that genetic variations on the Y chromosome can significantly increase a man's risk of coronary heart disease.

Genetic variants carried on the Y chromosome - the sex chromosome only possessed by males - influence men's risk of developing coronary artery disease, a study has found.

Scientists at the University of Leicester and Australia's University of Ballarat studied the male-specific genes of 3,233 British men, none of whom were related.

They found that men who could be traced back to a particular ancient Y chromosome lineage - accounting for 15 to 20 per cent of British males - had about a 50 per cent increased risk of coronary artery disease, compared with men who lacked this particular variant.

This indicates that men's susceptibility to coronary artery disease may be partly influenced by the genes they inherit from their male ancestors.

Publishing their findings in the Lancet medical journal, the study authors concluded: "Our study is the first to evaluate associations between main European Y chromosome lineages and coronary artery disease as well as its underlying risk factors.

"[It has] revealed that the Y chromosome might have a magnified effect on men beyond sex determination despite the small number of genes it harbours in the human genome."

Dr Helene Wilson, research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said that while lifestyle choices are major causes of heart disease, inherited factors are also part of the picture.

"This discovery could help lead to new treatments for heart disease in men, or tests that could tell men if they are at particularly high risk of a heart attack," she added.

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