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Snoring is in your genes

A new study by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has identified 173 genes linked to snoring and confirmed overweight, middle-aged men who smoke are the most likely to have the sleep condition.

The study findings have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Senior author and study leader, Dr Miguel E. Renteria from QIMR Berghofer’s Genetic Epidemiology group, said the 173 genes were situated on 42 regions of the human genome.

“This is the largest population-wide study of the genetics of snoring to date and provides a new insight into the sleeping condition which affects one in three people,” Dr Renteria said.

“We were able to identify the genes by comparing differences in the DNA profiles of about 150,000 snorers to the genetic information of more than 250,000 non-snorers that is held in the UK Biobank.

“We also looked at the effects of body mass index (BMI), smoking, and alcohol consumption on the likelihood of someone being a snorer, and conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify specific parts of the human genome that harbour genes that increase the risk of snoring.

“We then used that information to develop genetic risk scores for the predisposition to snore in a group of 8,000 Australian adults, and were able to identify those at high-risk and those at low-risk, based on their genes.

“Many of the genes we found that are associated with snoring have previously been linked to respiratory, cardio-metabolic, neurological and psychiatric traits.”

Dr Renteria said the study also confirmed a genetic overlap between snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea, with almost 80 per cent of the genes involved in snoring risk also affecting a person’s risk for obstructive sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea is a serious condition that affects breathing during sleep. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it reduces airflow which causes intermittent dips in the amount of oxygen in the blood and disturbs sleep.

It can lead to health problems such as pulmonary hypertension, diabetes and heart disease and is often underdiagnosed in the population, but loud snoring is one of its most important symptoms.

Snoring is defined as noisy breathing during sleep that is the result of vibrations in the upper airways. Habitual snoring is mostly considered a harmless condition.

First author and QIMR Berghofer PhD candidate, Adrian Campos, said the study confirmed that snoring was overall more prevalent among men than women and the probability of snoring increased with age and BMI.

“We also found that smoking and alcohol consumption both increased the risk for snoring in men and women,” Mr Campos said.

“However, drinking alcohol increased the risk of snoring in men more than it did in women. Conversely, smoking increased a woman’s risk of snoring to a greater degree than it did in men.

“While snoring is often joked about as a strain in relationships, and many people don’t take it too seriously, we wanted to perform a rigorous scientific analysis to understand its biological basis and to examine its relationship with sleep apnoea and other health conditions.”

The researchers say they now plan to build on the study findings by using genetic data to further examine the relationship between snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.

The research was conducted in collaboration with The University of Queensland and was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, and a Research Training Scholarship from The University of Queensland.

The study findings are available on the Nature Communications website.