Genetics of Arrhythmia: Disease Pathways Beyond Ion Channels
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- Perez, M.V., Wheeler, M., Ho, M. et al. J. of Cardiovasc. Trans. Res. (2008) 1: 155. doi:10.1007/s12265-008-9030-4
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Diseases of the electrical conduction system that lead to irregularities in cardiac rhythm can have morbid and often lethal clinical outcomes. Linkage analysis has been the principal tool used to discover the genetic mutations responsible for Mendelian arrhythmic disease. Although the majority of arrhythmias can be accounted for by mutations in genes encoding ion channels, linkage analysis has also uncovered the role of other gene families such as those encoding members of the desmosome. With a list of candidates in mind, mutational analysis has helped confirm the suspicion that proteins found in caveolae or gap junctions also play a role in arrhythmogenesis. Atrial fibrillation and sudden cardiac death are relatively common arrhythmias that may be caused by multiple factors including common genetic variants. Genome-wide association studies are already revealing the important and poorly understood role of intergenic regions in atrial fibrillation. Despite the great advancements that have been made in our understanding of the genetics of these diseases, we are still far from able to routinely use genomic data to make clinical management decisions. There remain several hurdles in the study of genetics of arrhythmia, including the costs of genotyping, the need to find large affected families for linkage analysis, or to recruit large numbers of patients for genome-wide studies. Novel techniques that incorporate epigenetic information, such as known gene–gene interactions, biologic pathways, and experimental gene expression, will need to be developed to better interpret the large amount of genetic data that can now be generated. The study of arrhythmia genetics will continue to elucidate the pathophysiology of disease, help identify novel therapies, and ultimately allow us to deliver the individualized medical therapy that has long been anticipated.