Susceptible to Mountain Sickness? Blame Your Parents

mountain sicknessMountain sickness has long been a mystery for doctors, with some people handling altitude just fine while others suddenly develop what can become life-threatening symptoms.

A new study that identifies the potential genetic roots of mountain sickness may help in the development of a treatment or possibly even preventive measures. The research was published August 15 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, published by Cell Press.

Mountain sickness usually manifests itself at elevations above 8,000 feet. In mountain resort towns in the West, it’s often one of the leading causes of admissions to emergency medical facilities.

About 140 million people living permanently at high altitudes, where oxygen levels are low. Many of them have adapted to their environment, but others have chronic mountain sickness, characterized by heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary issues at an early age.

To identify and characterize the genes that are involved in adaptation to high-altitude, low-oxygen environments, scientists sequenced the entire genomes of 20 individuals living in the Andes —t en with chronic mountain sickness and ten without.

The investigators discovered 11 regions with significant differences between the two groups. In these regions, two genes (a blood cell regulator, SENP1, and a cancer-associated gene, ANP32D) were expressed to a greater extent in individuals with chronic mountain sickness than in those without the condition in response to low oxygen levels.

The team also demonstrated that reducing the expression of these two genes improved survival under low-oxygen conditions both in flies and in human cells.

“We showed that the genes that were identified by the whole-genome scan were actually linked causally to sickness in low-oxygen environments,” said co–senior author Dr. Gabriel Haddad of the University of California, San Diego.

Numerous clinical applications could result from the findings.

“With further study, the two genes we identified and validated may become potential drug targets for treating conditions related to low oxygen levels, such as strokes and heart attacks. In addition, they may also be considered as targets for a potential drug treatment for chronic mountain sickness,” Haddad added.

In affiliation with Summit County Voice.

Photo by Mandala Travel

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