Purpose of review: Since 2007, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have led to the identification of numerous loci of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The majority of these loci harbor genes previously not known to be involved in atherogenesis. In this review, we summarize the recent progress in understanding the pathophysiology of genetic variants in atherosclerosis.
Recent findings: Fifty-eight loci with P < 10⁻⁷ have been identified in GWAS for coronary heart disease and myocardial infarction. Of these, 23 loci (40%) overlap with GWAS loci of classical risk factors such as lipids, blood pressure, and diabetes mellitus, suggesting a potential causal relation. The vast majority of the remaining 35 loci (60%) are at genomic regions where the mechanism in atherogenesis is unclear. Loci most frequently found in independent GWAS were at Chr9p21.3 (ANRIL/CDKN2B-AS1), Chr6p24.1 (PHACTR1), and Chr1p13.3 (CELSR2, PSRC1, MYBPHL, SORT1). Recent work suggests that Chr9p21.3 exerts its effects through epigenetic regulation of target genes, whereas mechanisms at Chr6p24.1 remain obscure, and Chr1p13.3 affects plasma LDL cholesterol.
Summary: Novel GWAS loci indicate that our understanding of atherosclerosis is limited and implicate a role of hitherto unknown mechanisms, such as epigenetic gene regulation in atherogenesis.