Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, together with an international team of researchers found that people with a specific variant of a gene, known as PHACTR1, are at reduced risk of suffering cervical artery dissection, which is caused by a tear in an artery that leads to the brain.
    
The discovery could lead to new treatments and prevention strategies for the disease, which is a major cause of stroke in young adults.
    
The same gene variant has also been identified as a protector against migraines and affects the risk of heart attack.
    
"This is an important breakthrough. Our findings provide us with a greater understanding of how this region of the genome appears to influence key vascular functions, which could have major implications for the treatment of these severe and disabling conditions," said Professor Pankaj Sharma, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway.
    
For the study, researchers from around the world screened the entire genome of 1,400 patients with cervical artery dissection, along with 14,400 people without the disease.
    
Cervical artery dissection can lead to compression of adjacent nerves and to blood clotting, potentially causing blockage of vessels and brain damage.
    
The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.

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