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In the Elderly, a Link between Diabetes and Heart Disease

By Kate Ruder

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Heart Disease

A new study reports that the reason people with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease as they get older than people without diabetes may involve abnormal levels of two proteins in their hearts.

Researchers found that people with diabetes between the ages of 41 and 85 had higher levels of two proteins in their hearts than people of the same age without diabetes. The proteins, called Gai and mAChR for short, interact with one other and have been linked to heart problems such as congestive heart failure.

“We have known that diabetics have a higher incidence of heart failure, but why this happens has not been fully understood,” says Madan Kwatra of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who led the research.

The findings are unlikely to change the way patients are treated in the near future. But they may help researchers find better drugs to treat heart disease in diabetics down the road. For example, drugs known as beta-blockers have been shown to reduce the levels of Gai proteins in the heart, says Kwatra.

The team was surprised to find that as people with diabetes got older, the levels of the protein mAChR rose significantly. Diabetics between the ages of 70 and 85 had higher levels of the protein than diabetics between the ages of 41 and 55. Increased levels of mAChR can lead to atrial fibrillation and heart failure, and diabetics are known to be at an increased risk.

Kwatra and his colleagues analyzed heart samples from 51 people with and without diabetes. The samples came from patients who had undergone surgery and had a snippet of their heart removed so that they could be hooked up to a heart-lung machine to improve circulation in their hearts.

Richardson, M.D. et al. Increased expression of G-coupled muscarinic acetylcholine receptor and G in atrium of elderly diabetic subjects. Diabetes 53, 2392-2396 (September 2004).

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