Research led by the University of Leicester shows a Y chromosome link in the prevalence of coronary heart disease. Coronary Heart Disease is the biggest killer in the UK with 2.6 million people affected each year.
Coronary Heart Disease is caused by the narrowing of the coronary arteries of the heart. Coronary arteries provide blood flow to all the of the heart muscle; they provide the heart tissue with oxygen and nutrients that they need to remain alive. When a blockage occurs, bloodflow to certain areas of the heart is decreased leading to reduced nutrition for those cells and eventually to cell death – this is what causes infarction, or heart attacks.
Researchers found that the Y chromosome – the chromosome found only in men and passed from father to son – plays a large role in the inheritance of coronary heart disease. The British Heart Foundation has stated that in 2008 in the UK alone 88,236 people died as a result of coronary heart disease – 49,665 were men and 38,571 were women. Clearly, there is a greater prevalence for this disease in men, 56% of deaths.
Researchers investigated the DNA of 3,000 men for any abnormality leading to a predisposition to coronary heart disease – the discovery was that 90% of the Y chromosome belongs to one of two groups: haplogroup I or ,haplogroup R1b1b2. The risk for men in haplogroup I to develop coronary heart disease is a massive 50% – regardless of traditional factors, such as; high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking. The current theory is that haplogroup I’s influence on inflammation and the immune system in the body.
The Y chromosome was initially believed to only have a role in sex determination – the presence of a Y chromosome leads to the formation of male sex characteristics and inhibits formation of female sex characteristics. However, more and more research is proving that the Y chromosome is not genetically empty and does influence male development and health.
“We are very excited about these findings as they put the Y chromosome on the map of genetic susceptibility to coronary artery disease. We wish to further analyse the human Y chromosome to find specific genes and variants that drive this association. 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.” Dr Macej Tomaszewski – clinical senior lecturer at the University of Leicester’s Department of Cardiovascular Science