Scientists in Germany have identified 20 "cholesterol control" genes that could be key factors in developing heart disease.
The findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, show that the genes point to important new risk factors for heart disease.
Researchers from the University of Heidelberg looked for genes similar to those already known to affect cholesterol regulation.
The 100 most promising genes were then tested using RNA interference (RNAi) to assess their activity.
By using the genetic molecule RNA scientists blocked the protein-making "instructions" issued by genes, switching them off.
The technique identified 20 genes "immediately relevant" for maintaining cellular levels of cholesterol, with some key to managing levels of low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol, which is a major risk factor in heart disease.
Study leader Dr Heiko Runz said: "Blood cholesterol levels are controlled by cholesterol in cells. Therefore, some of the genes identified by us as regulators of cellular cholesterol in future studies might turn out to be disease genes that contribute to hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol) in some cases.
"Moreover, the strategy we used could open a new avenue to identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease."