Genetic difference in blood clotting may underlie racial health disparity

Finding could help explain difference between blacks and whites in heart attack survival

A difference in blood clotting could help explain why blacks don’t survive heart attacks as often as whites do.

Racial disparities in heart disease and other illnesses have many contributing factors, including social and cultural ones, but genetics may a play role too. Blood clots may trigger heart attacks and strokes; people respond differently to blood-thinners, such as aspirin, which people take to prevent heart attacks and stroke and to dissolve clots after they occur.

Blood cells called platelets from blacks form clots more readily than platelets from whites do, researchers led by Paul Bray of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia report November 10 in Nature Medicine.   

Bray and his colleagues traced this clotting difference to a small genetic molecule known as microRNA. MicroRNAs help regulate production of certain proteins. In the study, blacks tended to have lower levels of a microRNA called miR-376c than their white counterparts did. Lower levels of miR-376c were associated with increased production of a protein called PAR4. That protein helps trigger platelet clotting.

The findings may be important for tailoring clot-busting drugs to a person’s genetic makeup.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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