Heart disease risk passed from father to son

9 February 2012

Men with a particular variant on their Y chromosome have a 50 per cent increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) compared with men without the variant, a study suggests.

The heightened risk occurs independently of other known cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, age, body mass index, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic status, or circulating concentrations of C-reactive protein - a marker of inflammation. This suggests that men with this variant are hard-wired to have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, regardless of their other risk factors.

The study authors genotyped (worked out the genetic makeup of) 11 markers of the male-specific region of the Y chromosome in more than 3200 biologically unrelated British men. They then tracked each Y chromosome back into one of 13 ancient lineages defined as haplogroups. All humans belong to one of about 30 haplogroups worldwide - a sort of ancestral clan. Of nine haplogroups identified, two accounted for roughly 90 per cent of the Y chromosome variants among British men.

One of those, called haplogroup I, occurs in 15–20 per cent of the British male population, and the study showed that men carrying it had about a 50 per cent higher risk of CAD compared with men with other Y chromosome lineages.

Further data showed that the effect on risk of coronary artery disease is most likely mediated through the immune response.

In a linked commentary, Dr Virginia Miller of the Mayo Clinic wrote that, “it would be interesting to examine whether existing algorithms assessing individual risk of coronary artery disease for men could be improved by changing the question 'Did your mother or father have a heart attack before age 60?' to 'Did your father have a heart attack before the age of 60?'” “Both sex and family do matter in inheritance of coronary artery disease," she concluded.

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