The University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) has made an important discovery about a novel gene that affects heart development and the aging process.
Researchers at UOHI found that the gene named MLIP for Muscle enriched A-type Lamin Interacting Protein in the cell's nucleus where hereditary information is stored. The research suggests that the gene may control the behavior of other genes important in heart development. Their findings have been reported electronically in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The scientists focus on the fetal heart as it grows into an adult heart. The Lamin gene family has been associated with muscular dystrophy and other degenerative heart muscle diseases when it is mutated. At this time it is not understood how the mutations in LMNA relate to other diseases.
"We know that aging is the greatest predictor of cardiovascular disease and heart failure. So we have been working backward in time, looking at the fetal heart to understand changes in the process as it ages, grows frail and fails," said molecular biologist Patrick Burgon, PhD.
Research is now processing with animal models and how they respond when the MLIP gene is removed.
Researchers at the Heart Institute have discovered 13 new genes that increase the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) in the past including gene 9p21. Gene 9p21 was the first genetic risk factor to be recognized for heart disease and the first major new cardiovascular risk factor since the discovery of cholesterol.
Molecular biologist Patrick Burgon who discovered MLIP said in a phone interview that the find is significant on several levels.
"This is a completely new gene. What really excited me is that there are no other family members of this gene. This is very important as there is nothing to compare it to."
The discovery was made by Burgon several years ago while researching the Lamin gene family. The researchers were studying how Lamin A reacted with other genes. During that research MLIP was found to seat on a hierarchy above the Lamin family.
"The Lamin research studied the way genes interacted with one another when it came to age related diseases," Burgon explained, "We all age. Aging is the inability to repair ourselves. Certain diseases cause the body to wear out faster."
MLIP is only found in reptiles, birds and humans which is very exciting to Burgon.
"We have had to find a whole new way to study this gene because it has no family members. It opens up new windows in the field of research."
The publication of Burgon and his team's discovery is the story of how MLIP was found. There is more information being found every day about the gene.
"This is just the tip of the ice berg. There are many other studies in the works. Some of those studies is looking at studies in mice and showing the potential of how the gene works with other tissues which could be published as early as late summer."
When Burgon discovered the gene his research began with asking simple questions and then having to make the tools to study it like antibodies. With no other gene family to compare MLIP to that research has taken years.
Burgon said that understanding how MLIP could lead to a better understanding of how we suffer from the aging process.
"Something could be found that leads us to a healthier life. Often discoveries that are found by biologists are because of research in other areas. This is what drives me."