Scientists from the Boston School of Medicine have found a gene, called FOXF2, which appears to be linked to small vessel disease in the brain leading to an increased risk of ischaemic strokes.
These attacks occur when an artery carrying blood to the brain becomes blocked preventing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells (neurones).
When this occurs it takes only a matter of minutes before the brain cells stop working and die.
Typically the artery blockage is caused by blood clots. When a clot forms within the arteries of the brain to cause a blockage it is known as a cerebral thrombosis causing a thrombotic stroke. This represents about 50% of all strokes.
If the stroke is caused by a clot formed outside of the brain (often near the heart) which travels around the bloodstream until it reaches the brain where it lodges and blocks the blood flow it is known as an embolic stroke (or embolism).
Previous studies have already revealed genes which cause atherosclerosis, the increased ‘scaling’ of the artery walls due to fatty deposits restricting the blood flow, as well as dysfunctions in the function of platelets and blood clotting.
This new research is the first to suggest that small vessel disease (a weakness or malfunction of the blood vessels themselves) may also have a genetic cause.
The hope is that further research into the genetic markers that seem to be present in those at the highest risk of strokes may lead to the development of more effective and sophisticated treatments to prevent an attack from happening at all.
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