New Genetic Risk Factors for Stroke Have Been Discovered

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22 new genetic risk factors for stroke have been identified! Sudha Seshadri, M.D., of UT Health San Antonio, is senior co-author of this largest genetic study of stroke to date, entitled Nature Genetics. DNA samples were taken from 520,000 individuals worldwide. 

Prior to this study, only 10 genetic risk factors had been identified for stroke. Dr. Seshadri, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's & Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio and holder of the university's Robert Barker Distinguished University Chair, said the identification of genetic regions that are strongly correlated to stroke will increase potential targets for stroke drug development.

The Glenn Biggs Institute’s main goal was to identify risk factors and other revolutionary treatments for dementia, and the study provides excellent grounds for investigations within this particular area, Dr. Seshadri said.

“If we can identify and understand these new risk factors for stroke, we should be able to find other effective treatments for dementia Dr. Seshadri said, "a vascular disease in the brain -- a series of strokes -- can lead to dementia."

The study also found novel genetic risk factors for all major subtypes of ischemic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked. Around 80% of all reported strokes are ischemic.

The largest correlation that was found was between genetic risk factors and blood pressure, as hypertension is a huge risk factor for stroke. The brain does not store energy and needs a constant supply of blood, oxygen and blood glucose, which is why vascular health is so important for brain function.

"Any disruption can lead to cognitive problems," Dr. Seshadri said. "The most obvious example of that is stroke. There is a deficit in the blood supply and that is associated with very obvious changes in cognitive function."

Dr. Seshadri and colleagues with the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts also found that people who have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia tended to have a higher ideal cardiovascular health score on the American Heart Association scale. "What is good for your heart is also good for your brain," she said. "It’s important to adopt heart-healthy behaviors such as a nutritious diet and regular exercise."