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Chao Qiang Lai and Jose Ordovas view computer screen displaying DNA data. Link to photo information
Molecular biologist Chao Qiang Lai (left) and geneticist Jose Ordovas use a DNA sequence system to identify which individuals carry a specific mutation associated with high triglycerides or obesity. Click the image for more information about it.

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Carriers of "Plaque" Gene at Greater Risk

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
September 4, 2007

When it comes to obesity, all fat deposits are not alike. A study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) -funded scientists found that individuals who were born with a particular gene variant had a significantly greater buildup of plaque in their arteries than those who were not carriers. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

The study was headed by Jose M. Ordovas, a biochemist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. Ordovas is director of the HNRCA Nutrition and Genomics Laboratory. He and colleagues have been studying genes that control blood levels of lipids, or fats, that affect heart disease risks.

The researchers found that among more than 2,000 local study participants in Framingham, Mass., those who had a particular variant of the APOA5 gene had higher levels of arterial plaque, as measured by carotid artery lining thickness.

Although obesity is a known contributing factor to heart disease, the problem was shown to be even worse among the 13 percent of both men and women who carry the less common gene variant.

High blood lipids, such as total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides—which can be detected through blood tests—are both genetically and environmentally controlled contributors to coronary artery disease risk. This study showed that it may be more important for some people than for others to make preventive dietary and lifestyle changes, depending upon their genetic makeup.

The association between the gene variant and hardening of the arteries requires further study. But the comparatively high levels of arterial plaque among carriers are consistent with levels associated with symptoms of heart disease.

The study was published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

Read more about the research in the September 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.