Defect in Gene Tied to Atrial Fibrillation

Finding challenges idea that the heart rhythm disorder is an electrical problem

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THURSDAY, Dec. 11, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A gene linked with the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation has been identified by U.S. researchers.

It's the first evidence of such an association and could lead to new drugs and new ways of detecting the disease early and perhaps even prevent it.

Atrial fibrillation is characterized by uncoordinated, chaotic and rapid beating of the heart's upper chambers. A normal adult resting heart rate is about 70 to 80 beats a minute. In atrial fibrillation, that can jump to 300 beats per minute.

"The common thinking is that atrial fibrillation is an electrical problem of the heart," which has kept the focus on ion channels that control the electrical impulses that keep the heart beating, said Qing Kenneth Wang, of the Cleveland Clinic, in a news release.

But Wang and colleagues found a link between atrial fibrillation and defects in a gene called NUP155, which is involved in moving other molecules in and out of the cell nucleus. The study was published in the Dec. 12 issue of the journal Cell.

"It's unexpected. We never thought a gene like this could lead to atrial fibrillation," Wang said.

The incidence of atrial fibrillation is rising along with the aging population in the United States. Atrial fibrillation is believed to be responsible for about 15 percent of all strokes.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atrial fibrillation.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, Dec. 11, 2008

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