Scientists believe they have discovered clues that could help explain why men tend to die more quickly than women after a certain age. According to new research, male mortality is possibly linked to the loss of the Y chromosome, which can lead to heart scarring and eventual failure.
Upwards of 40 percent of men over the age of 70 lose this crucial male sex chromosome, which represents one bundle of DNA in each cell. Men also have one X chromosome to pair with the Y chromosome; while women are born with two X chromosomes.
Professor Kenneth Walsh, from the University of Virginia, said that men strangely age faster after a certain age.
“Particularly past age 60, men die more rapidly than women. It’s as if they biologically age more quickly,” he said. “This new research provides clues as to why men have shorter lifespans than women.”
Doctors are beginning to understand the devastating effects of losing the Y chromosome for men; a condition which is actually quite common, especially in smokers. Besides mortality rates increasing, the loss of the Y can also cause serious age-related neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Walsh and his team used a DNA editing tool called CRISPR to introduce artificial breaks in the Y chromosome DNA of white blood cells
Research scientists used gene-editing technology to develop a special mouse model to better understand the effects of Y chromosome loss in the blood. The findings were stark: accelerated age-related diseases and more heart scarring for the mice, all of which led to earlier death. Some prescription drugs were able to reverse the heart scarring in the mice, though finding a cure to cardiovascular disease was not the purpose of the study. In smaller human studies, the condition typically led to cardiovascular disease, which is the most common causes of death worldwide.
“We found that men who had lost their Y chromosomes in over 40% of their white blood cells had a 31% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with men who hadn’t lost their Y, including a two- to threefold increased risk of dying from congestive heart failure or heart disease,” Walsh said.
While loss of the Y chromosome was first observed in 1963, it was not until 2014 that researchers found an association between its loss and shorter life span. The Y chromosome is difficult to sequence because of its repetitiveness — in other words, it’s easy to get lost.
So what comes next? Scientists want to discover which lost genes exactly in the disappearing Y chromosome account for disease-causing effects.
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