15 November 2010

DNA sequence variations linked to electrical signal conduction in the heart

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Scientists studying genetic data from nearly 50,000 people have uncovered several DNA sequence variations associated with the electrical impulses that make the heart beat

The findings, reported in Nature Genetics, may pave the way for a greater understanding of the mechanisms for abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death. "Regulation of the heart's rhythm is exceedingly complex," says co-author Glenn I. Fishman, MD, the William Goldring Professor of Medicine and the director of the Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. "This study provides new clues about the biologic pathways that influence cardiac conduction. Our hope is that this information will translate into novel approaches to prevent or treat serious rhythm disorders, including sudden cardiac death."

Normally, signals start from specialized muscle cells called pacemaker cells, travel through the heart and cause rhythmical muscle contractions – a system called cardiac conduction. The signals register on heart monitors as the electrocardiogram, or ECG. Abnormalities in cardiac conduction, particularly in the ventricles of the heart, can be extremely dangerous, leading to sudden cardiac death which affects approximately 250,000 people each year in the United States. Treatment with a pacemaker or a specialized device known as an implantable defibrillator may be needed to regulate the heart's rhythm.

Researchers have known for some time that genetic factors contribute to electrical activity in the heart, including conduction of the electrical signal throughout the heart chambers. The new study reports on several previously unsuspected regions in the genome associated with cardiac electrical activity.

(e! Science News)

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