People with a mutation in the gene PHACTR1 were
found to be less susceptible to cervical artery dissection: a tear in the
lining of an artery in the neck. This can cause small blood clots, which could
lead to a stroke.
This same variant has previously been shown to
be associated with lower risk of migraine but increased risk of heart attacks,
reports the study in Nature Genetics.
Study author Professor Pankaj Sharma, professor of clinical
neurology at Royal Holloway,
University of London, said: '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.'
The researchers conducted a genome-wide
association study, looking at 1,393 people with cervical artery dissection and
14,416 controls. They then verified their findings in follow-up tests on more
than 3,000 people.
This is the first gene to be linked to cervical
artery dissection. Previous studies have found that people who have infections,
migraines and high blood pressure are more likely to experience cervical artery
Professor Sharma added: 'Further genetic
analyses and worldwide collaborations of this kind provide hope of pinpointing
the underlying mechanisms that cause stroke.'
Roughly 150,000 people suffer a stroke in the UK
every year; around a quarter of these are under 65. Cervical artery dissection
is uncommon and affects 2.6 people in every 100,000 each year.