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Scientists have discovered new clues that could explain why men generally don’t live as long as women.
Research suggests this is linked to the loss of the Y chromosome, which can cause heart muscle to scar and lead to fatal heart failure.
An estimated 40% of people in their 70s suffer from the loss of this male sex chromosome, but they could benefit from an existing drug that targets dangerous tissue scarring.
Chromosomes are bundles of DNA in every cell that come in pairs. Women have two X chromosomes while men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome.
Professor Kenneth Walsh, from the University of Virginia, said: “Particularly after age 60, men die faster than women. It’s as if they age biologically faster.”
He added: “This new research provides clues as to why men have shorter lifespans than women.”
Pirfenidone can help counter the harmful effects of chromosome loss, said University of Virginia (UVA) researcher Kenneth Walsh.
Many men begin to shed their Y chromosome in a fraction of cells as they age – which seems to be especially true for smokers.
Scientists have already discovered that men who suffer from a loss of the Y chromosome are more likely to die at a younger age and suffer from age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The new research is considered the first hard evidence that the loss of chromosomes directly has harmful effects on men’s health.
The researchers used gene editing technology to develop a special mouse model to better understand the effects of Y chromosome loss in the blood.
They found that the loss accelerated age-related diseases and made the mice more prone to heart scarring and led to earlier death.
The researchers also looked at the effects of Y-chromosome loss in human males, performing three analyzes of data compiled from the UK Biobank study. They found that the loss of the Y chromosome was associated with cardiovascular disease and heart failure.
As chromosome loss increased, the risk of death also increased, the researchers found.
They said their findings suggest that targeting the effects of Y-chromosome loss could help men live longer, healthier lives.
The results are published in the journal Science.
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