Human Genetic Variants Associated with Longevity are Also Associated with Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease is responsible for a sizable fraction of human mortality, with atherosclerosis as the most important single cause of death in our species. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising to find genetic variants thought to contribute to differences in life expectancy between individuals also involved in the mechanisms of cardiovascular aging, dysfunction, and disease.

Aging is an archetypical complex process influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Genetic variants impart a gradient of effect sizes, albeit skewed toward those with small effect sizes. On one end of the spectrum are the rare monogenic premature aging syndromes, such as Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome, whereby single nucleotide changes lead to rapidly progressive premature aging. On the end of the spectrum is the complex, slowly progressive process of living to an arbitrary-defined old age, i.e., longevity.

Whereas the genetic basis of rare premature aging syndromes has been elucidated, only a small fraction of the genetic determinants of longevity and life span, time from birth to death, have been identified. The latter point to the complexity of the process and involvement of myriad of genetic and non-genetic factors and hence, the diluted effect of each determinant on longevity. The genetic discoveries point to the involvement of DNA damage and activation of the DNA damage response pathway, particularly in the premature aging syndromes. Likewise, the insulin/insulin-like growth factor 1/mTOR/FOXO pathways have emerged as major regulators of life span.

A notable fraction of the genetic variants that are associated with life span is also associated with age-related cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary artery disease and dyslipidemia, which places cardiovascular aging at the core of human life span. The clinical impact of the discoveries pertains to the identification of the pathways that are involved in life span, which might serve as targets of interventions to prevent, slow, and even possibly reverse aging.


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