A study published in Lancet Neurology and co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers identifies a gene called FOXF2 that is associated with stroke. It also offers preliminary evidence on how the gene may cause stroke: By affecting pericytes, a type of cell on the walls of small arteries and capillaries. This insight is important, because pericyte damage is suspected to play a major role in Alzheimer’s disease, as well.
Each year, stroke kills nearly 129,000 Americans, according to the American Stroke Association. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the top neurological cause of death and disability.
FOXF2 has several functions. During fetal development, it helps build the blood-brain barrier, which separates circulating blood from cerebrospinal fluid, protecting the brain from neurotoxins. In adults, FOXF2 is also present in pericytes enveloping the small blood vessels that feed the brain. Scientists don’t fully understand the pericytes’ role but know they help maintain the blood-brain barrier.
Although small vessel disease is an important cause of stroke, responsible for 20 percent to 30 percent of cases, scientists had not known about any genetic risk factors for common forms of the disease, and there is currently no treatment.
Three researchers from BUSPH were co-authors on the paper: Dr. Alexa Beiser and Dr. Anita DeStefano, professors of biostatistics; and Dr. Seung-Hoan Choi, who received his PhD in biostatistics from BUSPH in May.