Washington: Researchers conducting the first large-scale sequencing analysis of congenital heart disease have taken an important step in unlocking the cause of the most common type of birth defect.
The analysis found that spontaneous, or de novo, mutations affect a specific biological pathway that is critical to aspects of human development, including the brain and heart.
Congenital heart disease can cause infants to be born with structural heart problems, which can be serious or even life-threatening.
The findings will inform future research into the causes of congenital heart disease.
This research was conducted through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute- (NHLBI) supported Pediatric Cardiac Genomics Consortium, an international, multi-center collaborative research effort. The NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The researchers looked at 362 parent-offspring trios, each of which included a child with congenital heart disease and his or her healthy parents, as well as 264 healthy parent-offspring trios, which served as the control group.
The team conducted an analysis using state-of-the-art sequencing and genome mapping techniques and found that the children with congenital heart disease had a greatly increased rate of spontaneous mutations among genes that are highly expressed, or active, in the developing heart.
Specifically, the analysis found that about 10 percent of the participant cases were associated with spontaneous mutations that arise during fetal development.
Many of these genes were involved in a specific pathway that controls and regulates gene expression, which provides some insight into how the defects arise.
The Pediatric Cardiac Genomics Consortium provided resources to recruit thousands of patients in a small amount of time and used advanced sequencing techniques to identify genes that are implicated in congenital heart disease.
Future research aims to better understand how congenital heart disease develops in order to improve treatment and perhaps eventually prevent congenital heart disease in the early stages of heart formation.
The findings were published online in the journal Nature.