Genetics linked to increased risk of heart disease in African Americans
07 Jan 2011
African Americans are more than twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease as their white Caucasian counterparts, and new research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Medicine suggests that genes may be to blame.
Researchers from the Vascular Biology Department at the University of Minnesota took blood samples from 21 African Americans (AA) and 17 Caucasian Americans (CA), both males and females and all young and healthy with no history or evidence of cardiovascular disease. From the samples, a certain group of blood cells called the blood outgrowth endothelial cells, which are responsible for the growth and formation of blood vessels, was tested using a number of genetic techniques to identify differences between the two groups in terms of gene expression.
Following comprehensive statistical analysis, more than 200 genes were found to be significantly differently expressed in AA participants compared to CA subjects, with 31 genes showing unambiguous differences. Additionally, there was also a very apparent difference in the way that AA blood vessel cells respond to the shear stress inflicted upon them by blood flowing through the vessel. These findings provide compelling evidence to suggest that African American blood vessels are genetically less well equipped to cope with increased biological stress compared to Caucasians.
Principal Investigator Professor Robert Hebbel said, "We have known about certain genetic health differences between African Americans and Caucasians for some time. Sickle cell anemia, for example, is much more common in African Americans than in white populations, and this can be traced back to gene variations relating to the continent of origin. Cardiovascular health has also long been known to be influenced by both genetics and lifestyle choices, but we've never before examined the genetic components in terms of ethnicity."
Though this study was conducted with only a small sample, it paves the way for further research to understand more about the genetic health differences between racial groups. It is hoped that one day this research may lead to the discovery of more effective, targeted treatments for cardiovascular disease, and other diseases such as stroke and cancer that also involve blood vessels.
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Notes to Editors
Differential endothelial cell gene expression by African Americans versus Caucasian Americans: a possible contribution to health disparity in vascular disease and cancer
P Wei, L C Milbauer, J Enenstein, J Nguyen, W Pan and R P Hebbel
BMC Medicine (in press)
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