A University of Cambridge study, which set out to investigate DNA methylation in the human heart and the "missing link" between our lifestyle and our health, has now mapped the link in detail across the entire human genome.
By going wider and scanning the genome in greater detail this time - we now have a clear picture of the ’fingerprint’ of the missing link, where and how epigenetics in heart failure may be changed and the parts of the genome where diet or environment or other external factors may affect outcomes."
The new data collected greatly benefits a field that is still in its scientific infancy and is a significant leap ahead of where the researchers were, even 18 months ago.
Researcher Roger Foo explains: "By going wider and scanning the genome in greater detail this time – we now have a clear picture of the ’fingerprint’ of the missing link, where and how epigenetics in heart failure may be changed and the parts of the genome where diet or environment or other external factors may affect outcomes."
The study originally began investigating the differences in DNA methylation found in the human heart. Researchers compared data from a small number of people with end-stage cardiomyopathy who were undergoing heart transplantation, and the healthy hearts of age-matched victims of road traffic accidents.
DNA methylation leaves indicators, or "marks", on the genome and there is evidence that these "marks" are strongly influenced by external factors such as the environment and diet. The researchers have found that this process is different in diseased and normal hearts. Linking all these things together suggest this may be the "missing link" between environmental factors and heart failure.
The findings deepen our understanding of the genetic changes that can lead to heart disease and how these can be influenced by our diet and our environment. The findings can potentially open new ways of identifying, managing and treating heart disease.
The DNA that makes up our genes is made up of four "bases" or nucleotides - cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymie, often abbreviated to C, G, A and T. DNA methylation is the addition of a methyl group (CH3) to cytosine.