Findings in Nature Genetics support the idea that balance between sodium and potassium are essential to the heart.

An international group of scientists identified 10 genes connected to changes in QT interval duration, which measures the length of time the heart takes to contract.

The study, which appears in Nature Genetics March 22, also confirms the existing medical theory that a balance of sodium and potassium transport in and out of the heart is critical for heart muscles; a number of the 10 identified genes help regulate human potassium channels in the heart muscle.

These genes are also of interest because changes in the QT interval are one of the common side effects that lead pharmaceutical companies to cancel drugs under development.

“Each gene we identified can produce a small alteration in the QT interval,” according to Gonalo Abecasis, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Individuals with too many genes predisposing to a long or short QT interval are likely to be most at risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD).”

The team studied DNA and electrocardiograms for 15,000 people, contrasting their findings with those of a parallel study of a similar size led by the Broad Institute. The next research phase will follow people over time to see which carriers have SCD or are at most risk and how the changes in QT interval translate into changes in risk.

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