Gene switch 'causes heart problems'
Published on 23 January 2012 12:00 PM
US scientists have taken a step closer to better understanding how genes can cause heart problems, it has been revealed.
Researchers from the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco discovered that failure to turn off a gene at the right time in an embryo's development could lead to illness as the person gets older.
The researchers examined the effect genes Six1 and Ezh2 have on cardiomyopathy - an enlarging and weakening of the heart muscle which is common in life-threatening heart defects. Their findings were published in Nature Genetics.
Six1 appears to be crucial in embryonic heart development, while Ezh2 would appear to switch off genes when they are no longer required.
The researchers discovered that mice in which the Six1 gene was left active were born seemingly healthy, but they encountered heart muscle problems as they grew older.
Dr Paul Delgado-Olguin said: 'When Six1 remains active for too long in Ezh2-deficient mice, it boosts the activity of other genes that shouldn't be activated in heart muscle cells - such as genes that make skeletal muscle.
'The enlargement and thickening of the mice's hearts over time eventually led to heart failure.'
The discovery could, in theory, help scientists find a way to fix the genetic switch in an effort to reduce a patient's risk of developing heart problems.
Copyright Press Association 2012