msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/9/2004 12:33:01 PM ET 2004-02-09T17:33:01

A team of researchers in Iceland said they have found a simple genetic mutation that doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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The company also said it has begun advanced clinical trials of a drug intended to counteract the deadly gene's effects, according to a report published Monday in the New York Times.

The team, at Iceland’s DeCODE Genetics, said the gene is associated with the body’s inflammatory response. The finding could help explain how inflammation can cause stroke and heart attack.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, Kari Stefansson of DeCODE and colleagues said they studied 296 Icelandic families including 700 heart attack victims. They used the company’s database of DNA information based on the population of Iceland, whose citizens are genetically similar to one another.

They found that 29 percent of the heart attack victims had one specific variant of the gene, called ALOX5AP.  The genetic variation is a single change in the genetic code called a single nucleotide polymorphism or “snip.”

The researchers did a later comparison among 750 British heart attack patients and 730 healthy people and found this particular SNP did not raise the risk of heart attack or stroke, but another one did.

This is not unexpected, they said.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that a common disease like myocardial infarction (heart attack) is associated with many different mutations or sequence variations and that the frequencies of these disease-associated variants may differ between populations,” they wrote.

The gene ALOX5AP works to stimulate the conversion of fats to molecules important in inflammation and in the development of clogged arteries or atherosclerosis.

In December, researchers reported they found another gene linked to both inflammation and heart attack. Dr. Eric Topol of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who led that study, also worked on the DeCODE study.

Reuters contributed to this report

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