A Personalized Medicine Approach to Familial Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a rapid, uncoordinated heart rhythm that affects nearly 2.5 million in the United States. The condition can cause health complications and death, rendering an economic burden that approaches $7 billion in annual health care costs in the U.S. While a familial component to AF has been noted for years, the genetic basis for AF susceptibility is only beginning to come into focus. Martin Tristani-Firouzi, MD (website), is leading a team of clinicians, clinician-scientists and basic scientists to identify the genetic basis of familial AF.

In initial studies, a search of the Utah Population Database revealed 31 multigenerational families with an excess of AF. Tristani-Firouzi’s group is taking two approaches to identify genetic susceptibilities to AF in these families. First, they are focusing on three families that have a high incidence of AF. Second, within those families, they are sequencing the genomes of at least five members who developed the condition at a relatively young age (< 40 years), suggesting their AF is due to genetic and not to environmental causes.

Future studies include evaluating potential AF susceptibility genes in other AF kindreds and in the general AF population at large. Further, the team is uniquely poised to investigate how disease genes cause AF, and to design novel therapies.

atrial fibrillation

Electrocardiography of atrial fibrillation (top) and normal sinus rhythm (bottom). The purple arrow indicates a P-wave, which is lost in atrial fibrillation.

Photo Credit: J. Heuser