Researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, Germany have uncovered the PDM16 gene as a previously unknown genetic factor that increases the risk of congenital heart failure in women.
Heart failure, characterized by the heart’s inability to pump blood effectively, is a major global health concern, affecting nearly 6.5 million Americans over the age of 20. While heart failure can result from various causes, including hypertension and coronary artery disease, genetic factors have increasingly gained attention as significant contributors to the disease. Reporting in Cardiovascular Research, researchers are now shedding light on one particular gene, known as PRDM16 in heart health and its gender-specific implications.
The research team’s findings have unveiled a striking gender disparity in the consequences of PRDM16 gene mutations. Contrary to expectations, the study shows that women with this genetic defect face a significantly higher risk of developing heart failure than men. This revelation challenges the traditional belief that men are more susceptible to congenital heart failure and emphasizes the importance of considering gender-specific genetic factors in cardiovascular research.
Professor Sabine Klaassen, a pediatric cardiologist specializing in cardiogenetics at the German Heart Center at Charité (DHZC), expressed her surprise at the results, highlighting the atypical gender-specific implications of the PRDM16 mutation. She stated, “This result is surprising because males tend to be affected by congenital heart failure earlier and more severely than females.” The study’s first author, Jirko Kühnisch, PhD, added that these gender differences may stem from variations in the metabolic profiles of men’s and women’s hearts, hinting at a fascinating avenue for future research.
Intriguingly, the research has also clarified the underlying mechanisms through which PRDM16 gene mutations contribute to heart failure. According to the researchers, the genetic defect alters the metabolism of heart muscle cells, ultimately causing the heart to weaken significantly. The heart muscle becomes spongy, enlarged, and less efficient at pumping blood, leading to the manifestation of heart failure symptoms.
To explore these mechanisms, the research team conducted experiments with mice, starting the studies in 2016 with funding from the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH). Their work has not only provided critical insights into the association between PRDM16 gene mutations and heart failure but has also offered a potential explanation for the observed gender disparities in heart disease.
One of the most promising outcomes of this research is the inclusion of the PRDM16 mutation in a genetic database that physicians can use for diagnostic purposes. When a genetic test identifies this mutation in patients, cardiologists can better understand the underlying cause of their heart disease, enabling more tailored treatment strategies.
The researchers also speculate that these genetic changes may have relevance to heart failure that occurs in older patients, although to a lesser extent. Their further work, closely affiliated with the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), promises to pave the way for personalized medicine approaches in heart disease management, underscoring the importance of further investigating gender-specific differences in cardiovascular diseases, potentially leading to more targeted therapies in the future.