WASHINGTON — The first gene linked directly to heart attacks has been isolated from an extended family in Iowa that has been plagued for generations by rampant coronary artery disease.
The gene, called MEF2A, plays a role in protecting the artery walls from building up plaque that can impede blood flow and lead to heart attacks, said Dr. Eric J. Topol of the Cleveland Clinic, head of a team that discovered the gene.
Topol said his team analyzed the genes of about 100 members of a family where heart disease and heart attack have been common for generations. They found that members with heart disease had a MEF2A gene that lacked some key bits of DNA. This apparently causes the arteries to thicken and become clogged.
"This is the first heart attack gene," Topol said. "Everyone who has this gene mutation is destined to have the disease. If you don't have this gene in this family, you appear to be free from developing this disease."