Public Release: 

African ancestry associated with risk factors for heart failure

UT Southwestern Medical Center

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Credit: UT Southwestern

DALLAS - Nov. 14, 2018 - African-Americans are known to have certain cardiac conditions that are linked to a greater occurrence of heart failure at a younger age than Caucasians. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center analyzed data from the Dallas Heart Study to determine why.

"In our study, genetically determined African ancestry was associated with two factors that are connected with an increased risk of heart failure - higher voltage on an electrocardiogram and thickening of the left ventricle," said senior author Dr. Mark Drazner, Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Chief of Cardiology.

The study is published in JAMA Cardiology.

Genetics experts at UT Southwestern looked at more than 25,000 DNA variations across the genome to estimate the amount of African ancestry for each participant. Self-identified black participants of the Dallas Heart Study were estimated to have an average of 86 percent African ancestry. The researchers found that genetically inferred African ancestry was more closely correlated with ECG voltage and thickening of the left ventricle than self-reported ethnic identity.

"On average, blacks have hearts that are thicker and heavier than whites," said Dr. Drazner, who holds the James M. Wooten Chair in Cardiology. "Also, they have higher electrocardiographic voltages. The basis of these differences remains uncertain. For example, it is not known to what extent genetic and/or environmental risk factors account for these differences."

African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and are the second-largest ethnic/racial group after Hispanics/Latinos. According to the American Heart Association, hypertension is highly prevalent among African-Americans and contributes directly to the large numbers of strokes, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease among this group.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,251 African-Americans and 826 whites enrolled in the Dallas Heart Study. Results from CMR tests, which are MRIs of the heart, and DEXA test results were evaluated. DEXA is a test that measures body fat mass and lean mass.

"Lean mass is highly correlated with the left ventricle mass (pumping chamber) of the heart. Our analysis confirmed that the association of African ancestry with increased left ventricular thickness is independent of any differences between lean mass and fat mass in blacks and whites," Dr. Drazner said.

The Dallas Heart Study was initiated in 2000 with the primary goal of improving the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of heart disease. It is the only single-center heart study of its size and multiethnic composition.

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Other UT Southwestern researchers who contributed to this work include Aya Alame (UT Southwestern medical student); Dr. Sonia Garg, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine; Dr. Julia Kozlitina, Assistant Professor in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development; Dr. Ronald M. Peshock, Professor of Radiology and Internal Medicine; Dr. Susan A. Matulevicius, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine; and Colby Ayers, Clinical Sciences faculty associate.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution's faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.4 million outpatient visits a year.

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