Heart Attacks May Cause Genetic Changes

Both heredity and environmental factors influence our risk of cardiovascular disease. A new study, by researches at Uppsala University, shows now that the memory of a heart attack can be stored in our genes through epigenetic changes. The results have been published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

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We inherit our genes from our parents at birth. During our lifetime, chemical modifications of DNA that turn off or on our genes, so-called epigenetic changes, occur. These changes can lead to the development of various diseases. In the current study, the researchers examined epigenetic changes in people who have had a previous heart attack.

‘During a heart attack the body signals by activating certain genes. This mechanism protects the tissue during the acute phase of the disease, and restores the body after the heart attack. It is therefore likely that epigenetic changes also occur associated to the heart attack’, says Åsa Johansson, a researcher at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, who led the study.

The results of the study showed that there are many epigenetic changes in individuals who had experienced a heart attack. Several of these changes are in genes that are linked to cardiovascular disease. However it was not possible to determine whether these differences had contributed to the development of the disease, or if they live on as a memory of gene activation associated with the heart attack.

‘We hope that our new results should contribute to increasing the knowledge of the importance of epigenetic in the clinical picture of a heart attack, which in the long run could lead to better drugs and treatments’, says Åsa Johansson