Researchers Spot Genetic Markers for Ischemic Strokes

Jessica Berman

Stroke is a brain attack caused either by a broken blood vessel that results in bleeding in the brain or, more commonly, a blockage by a blood clot or plaque. The blockage interrupts the flow of oxygen, and brain tissue dies.

Stroke was the second-leading global cause of death behind heart disease in 2013, accounting for 11.8 percent of total deaths worldwide, and it was the leading cause of preventable disability, according to the American Stroke Association.

Brad Worrall, a professor of neurology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said stroke «is a relatively generic term that actually comes from antiquity»; it is drawn from the notion of the victim being «struck down by the hand of God.”

Researchers led by Worrell have now discovered the biological underpinnings of the blockage-type stroke, called ischemic stroke. This type «can be caused by a clot forming in the heart and breaking loose and going and causing blockage, by an embolism or something traveling through the blood, [or] by hardening of the arteries in the blood vessels of the neck or blood vessels at the base of the brain.”

The genes that predispose people to ischemic stroke were found in a massive study involving 17,000 stroke patients and healthy people. Researchers then replicated the search in tens of thousands of patients around the world.

Worrall said the discoveries, published in the journal Lancet Neurology, give scientists avenues through which to explore the biological mechanisms of stroke.

“And at the end of the day, the most important thing is to prevent the disability from stroke,» he said. «We want to identify ways to prevent this horrible disease from claiming more victims.”

The findings, Worrall said, might one day help lead to the development of targeted treatments to prevent strokes.