Magazine article Science News

Coming to a Bad End: Lost Chromosome Tips Linked to Heart Problems

Magazine article Science News

Coming to a Bad End: Lost Chromosome Tips Linked to Heart Problems

Article excerpt

The prime risk factors for hear disease are well known--obesity, smoking, elevated cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Yet many people with these warning signs develop heart problems, while others don't. This observation indicates that yet-unrecognized factors must also influence risk.

A new study finds that the sequence-repeating sections of DNA called telomeres, which protect the ends of chromosomes, might play a role. Middle-aged men width long telomeres are only half as likely to develop heart disease as are men of the same age with short telomeres, researchers report in the Jan. 13 Lancet.

Telomeres buffer chromosomes' tips much as plastic caps preserve the ends of shoelaces. But telomeres get shorter with each successive division of a cell, and too-short telomeres ultimately leave a cell unable to replicate,

In the new study, Nilesh J. Samani, a cardiologist at the University of Leicester in England, and his colleagues assessed telomere length in the white blood cells of Scottish men entering a trial of the cholesterol-lowering statin drug pravastatin (Pravachol). The 6,595 participants averaged 55 years old, and all had elevated blood concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol. Researchers randomly assigned them to receive pravastatin or a placebo.

Over the next 5 years, 484 of the men developed heart disease. Samani and his cohorts identified 1,058 other study participants who matched those men in age and smoking status but who remained free of heart problems.

The researchers found that among the men getting the placebo, those with short telomeres were roughly twice as likely to develop heart disease as men with long telomeres were. …

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