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Low levels of oxygen could lead to fatal heart arrhythmias

Researchers say this deficiency can lead to sudden death

Photo (c) geckophotos - Getty Images
Heart arrhythmias, which occur when a person’s heartbeat falls out of rhythm, affect many consumers and can even be fatal. Despite the threat to consumers, researchers and medical professionals haven’t been able to nail down exactly why arrhythmias happen in all cases. 

Now, researchers at the University of California, Irvine believe they may have found an answer. Based on findings from a recent study, lead researcher Dr. Steve A. N. Goldstein says that low oxygen levels (hypoxia) can cause levels of a certain protein to throw off heart rhythms. 

"Our research shows that within seconds, at low levels of oxygen (hypoxia), a protein called small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO) is linked to the inside of the sodium channels which are responsible for starting each heartbeat," Goldstein said. 

"And, while SUMOylated channels open as they should to start the heartbeat, they re-open when they should be closed. The result is abnormal sodium currents that predispose to dangerous cardiac rhythms."

The researchers explain that this delayed sodium response is very common in consumers who have heart disease. Goldstein says that the findings from this study could provide doctors and other medical professionals with targets for potential therapies.

The full study has been published in the journal Cell Reports.

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