A team of U.S. scientists has identified a genetic "on-off switch" for cardiovascular disease. The affected gene — called CPT1A — makes a liver enzyme that, at low levels, is linked to increased risk factors for heart disease and blood-vessel disorders, say researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In a report on the discovery, presented at an American Heart Association's scientific online seminar, the researchers said biomarkers tied to CPT1A could offer doctors a significant new way to identify individuals are greater risk for cardiovascular problems — and prevent them.
"Our results open the door to the development of new screening tools and a clearer understanding of the biological mechanisms that underlie heart disease," said Stella Aslibekyan, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama.
For the study, the researchers tracked CPT1A’s connection to three well-known biomarkers for cardiovascular disease: low-density lipoproteins ("bad" cholesterol), high triglycerides, and a protein called adiponectin, which is made in fat tissue and helps the body turn food into energy.
They examined these biomarkers in 888 patients along with a biochemical process called methylation that can switch off the activity of genes in some people. The results showed that those patients with switched-off CPT1A genes had significantly higher triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels, and less-healthy levels of adiponectin.
"This is one step on the road to personalized medicine," Aslibekyan said. "In the future, we may be able to screen for methylation of CPT1A to identify at-risk individuals."
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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