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Gene Linked to Breast Cancer Might Boost Heart Health
Date:11/15/2009

When BRCA1 is deactivated, it can lead to hardening of the arteries, mouse study suggests

SUNDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The over-activity of a gene known to boost a woman's risk for breast cancer may have a good side, making arteries healthier, a new study suggests.

The study, performed in mice, also found that when this gene, called BRCA1, is turned off, it promotes an inflammation that can lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

Although there has been no previous observation of increased cardiovascular death specifically in the large number of people who carry the BRCA1 mutation, there has been a surprising suggestion of higher non-cancer death in this population, noted study senior author Dr. Subodh Verma, who was to present the results Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Fla.

The finding will "probably unleash a whole flurry of studies probing the databases and probing the populations that carry the BRCA mutations with respect to propensity for cardiovascular disease," said Verma, a cardiac surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital and associate professor of surgery at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. "We were surprised at how [the gene] is a gatekeeper of not just cardiac survival but also vascular function in atherosclerosis."

Mutated forms of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can each raise a woman's odds for breast and ovarian cancer risk at a younger age. When working right, the genes are tumor-suppressor genes and are key players in repairing DNA. When the genes are mutated, however, they can't repair DNA and unrepaired flaws can start a chain of events that ultimately leads to cancer.

"Things like tumor-suppression genes in this case may [also] have multiple effects that either promote, or, if they're abnormal, delay or limit the damage to arteries. That's what these researchers are hypothesizing," said Dr. Russell Luepker,
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