Genetic variant found to influence stress hormone levels

New research, using data from our ORCADES and Viking Health Study volunteers, has confirmed that a genetic variant in the SERPINA6/A1 gene helps to control human cortisol levels.

Cortisol molecule in 3D

Cortisol is a stress hormone which regulates inflammation, mood, our metabolism and the way we learn. It plays a vital role in how we react to our environment. Understanding what controls it can help us learn how to treat or prevent illnesses, which can be related to high levels of cortisol, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and depression.

Levels of cortisol can vary throughout the day. Researchers aimed to understand what might be controlling this variation. They used data from just over 4,000 volunteers from ORCADES and the Viking Health Study Shetland. This was used alongside data from other projects, to develop an understanding of what genes might be involved.

The researchers used genome wide association analysis in their study. This means they scanned all the genomes in each volunteer's DNA to try and find the genes related to cortisol regulation.

After conducting their work, the researchers confirmed the involvement of the SERPINA6/A1 gene. It was found to control cortisol levels in the blood, in the morning. The researchers also found that SERPINA6/A1 can affect a persons risk of getting heart disease and gene expression in some tissues. 

Despite the large amount of volunteer data used, no new genetic variants were found to influence cortisol levels. However, that doesn't mean that the genes aren't there to be found. So, research into what genes might affect cortisol levels continues.

The international team was led by Brian Walker and included researchers at the University of Edinburgh. Their research was conducted on behalf of the CORtisol NETwork (CORNET) consortium.  They aim to identify the genes that influence cortisol levels in the blood. It was published in the Journal of Human Genetics. If you'd like to read more, visit the link below.

Variation in the SERPINA6/SERPINA1 locus alters morning plasma cortisol, hepatic corticosteroid binding globulin expression, gene expression in peripheral tissues, and risk of cardiovascular disease

Are you a researcher who would like to access the data for this paper? The summary data for this will be on DataShare soon. To learn how to access our data, click the below link.

Data Access