Genetic study shows that inflammatory protein plays a role in heart disease

Genetic study shows that inflammatory protein plays a role in heart disease
Study suggests that anti-inflammatory drugs could be used to treat cardiovascular disease


A protein involved in inflammation, the interleukin-6 receptor (IL6R), is a contributing cause in the development of heart disease, new research led by the University of Cambridge has discovered. The research was published today, 15 March, in the journal The Lancet.

The findings suggest that targeting the IL6R signalling pathway might therefore be an effective way of combatting heart disease.

Dr Adam Butterworth, who co-led the study from the University of Cambridge, said: "Typically, it can take many years to make safe and effective drugs to target new disease pathways. However, in this case, drugs have been previously developed due to this pathway's involvement in autoimmune disease. In fact, one such drug, Tocilizumab, is already used for treating arthritis, and might therefore be a viable drug for preventing heart disease."

The research, undertaken as part of the IL6R Genetics Consortium and Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and funded by the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council, analysed human genetic and biomarker data from more than 200,000 participants compiled from 82 previous studies. The research focused on the genetic variant Asp358Ala which is known to affect IL6R signalling pathways involved in the inflammatory response.

The researchers discovered that people who carry the 'Ala' form of the variant have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease (3.4% for each additional copy of Ala that is inherited). Although this genetic change in risk is small, the potential reduction in an individual's risk of heart disease provided by a drug could be much greater.

Dr Butterworth added: "Individuals carrying 358Ala had lower levels of markers of systemic inflammation, suggesting that this variant dampens the inflammatory response. As carriers of this variant also had a decreased risk of heart disease, this strongly indicates that IL6R pathways play a causal role in coronary heart disease."

Nearly 200,000 people die from cardiovascular disease in the UK every year, comprising one in three of all deaths. (Source: British Heart Foundation website).


For additional information, please contact:

Dr Adam Butterworth, University of Cambridge
Tel. +44 (0) 1223 741 302 Email [email protected]

Stuart Roberts, Communications Office, University of Cambridge
Tel. +44 (0) 01223 764 982 Email [email protected]

Notes to editors:

1. The study 'Interleukin-6 receptor pathways in coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of 82 studies' will be published on 14 March in the journal The Lancet.

2. The British Heart Foundation is the nation's heart charity, dedicated to saving lives through pioneering research, patient care, campaigning for change and by providing vital information. But we urgently need help. We rely on donations of time and money to continue our life-saving work. Because together we can beat heart disease.

For more information visit

3. For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century

Contact: Dr. Adam Butterworth
[email protected]
University of Cambridge