New discoveries may help researchers better treat pulmonary hypertension

From left, researchers Soban Umar, Mansoureh Eghbali and Christine Cunningham

New UCLA research suggesting that the Y chromosome protects against pulmonary hypertension provides a new avenue for potential treatments for the disease.

The study, published in September in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that genes on the Y chromosome reduced the likelihood that mice developed the disease. Because pulmonary hypertension has the highest prevalence among women, who typically do not have a Y chromosome, the findings may explain why men, who typically do, inherently have more resistance to the disease's development. (Women characteristically have two X sex chromosomes, whereas men characteristically have one X and one Y sex chromosome.)

For the study, the researchers studied specially modified mice with varying numbers and types of sex chromosomes to determine whether the presence of a certain chromosomal makeup conferred protection against pulmonary hypertension. The researchers found that mice with a Y chromosome exhibited the highest resistance to the disease's development.

"The results of our study suggest for the first time that Y chromosome confers protection against the development of pulmonary hypertension," said Dr. Soban Umar, assistant professor-in-residence of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and first author of the study.

There currently is no cure for pulmonary hypertension. Many patients with the disease will eventually require a lung transplant, which is reliant on the availability of donor organs. In addition, not all patients are good candidates for transplant, and there aren't enough donor organs for every patient. Without treatment, the disease is generally fatal.

"The next important field of research will revolve around which specific genes on the Y chromosome provide protection against the disease," Umar said. "Determining the protective genes on the Y chromosome could lead to new therapies that are more reliable, safe and accessible for patients."

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