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DNA link to deprived city residents

New research has shown that the health of the most deprived Glaswegians could be impaired before they are even born.

Scientists have discovered that Glasgow's most deprived residents are more likely to have an increased chance of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life as part of their DNA, than their more affluent counterparts.

Experts from Glasgow University's College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health examined blood samples of 239 people and found significant differences in levels of methylation in the DNA of people from different ends of the socio-economic spectrum.

DNA methylation is a natural process which controls gene expression. The majority of this methylation content is fixed for life in humans from just a few weeks after conception as the structure of the body and organs is formed.

Lower levels of methylation can impair the process which ensures that the body's cells express only the genes they are supposed to so that the body works correctly and remains healthy.

Research leader Dr Paul Shiels, senior lecturer in epigenetics at Glasgow University, said: "The scale of health inequalities in Greater Glasgow has been widely reported and in this study we wanted to examine whether there is an epigenetic contribution to the inequality, which would help explain why people on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum are more likely to be predisposed to a number of common health issues.

"We found that levels of DNA methylation were significantly lower in the samples from the most deprived areas than they were in those from the least deprived, and those samples also showed signs of an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease."

He added: "Methylation levels decline throughout everyone's life as part of the natural process of ageing and can be slightly affected in adulthood by external factors such as diet, stress and lifestyle.

"Those external factors have a much greater effect on babies developing in the womb, affecting the enzymes which allow DNA methylation to occur, so it's very likely that the significantly lower levels of methylation we're seeing in the most deprived areas of the city are set before birth.

"It's a significant finding and may provide part of the explanation as to why many Glaswegians suffer such poor health in comparison to people in other cities in the UK and across Europe."

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