The Whitehall Study is a prospective epidemiological study of cardiovascular risk factors in healthy members of the British Civil Service, which has identified psychological distress as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. The levels of circulating Hsp60 in 860 participants from the Whitehall cohort and 761 individuals diagnosed with diabetes have been measured and related to psychological, biological, and genetic factors. In the Whitehall participants, concentrations of Hsp60 ranged from undetectable to mg/mL levels. Circulating Hsp60 correlated with total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and was positively associated with a flattened slope of cortisol decline over the day. Levels of this stress protein also correlated with measures of psychological stress including psychological distress, job demand, and low emotional support. Mass spectrometric analysis of circulating immunoreactive Hsp60 reveal that it is predominantly the intact protein with no mitochondrial import peptide, suggesting that this circulating protein emanates from mitochondria. The Hsp60 is stable when added to plasma and the levels in the circulation of individuals are remarkably constant over a 4-year period, suggesting plasma levels are partly genetically controlled. Sequence analysis of the HSP60-HSP10 intergenic promoter region identified a common variant 3175 C>G where the G allele had a frequency of 0.30 and was associated with higher Hsp60 levels in 761 type 2 diabetic patients. The extended range of plasma Hsp60 concentrations in the general population is genuine and is likely to be related to genetic, biological, and psychosocial risk factors for coronary artery disease.
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