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Cause of Hardening of the Arteries, and Potential Treatment—Identified

A team of UK scientists have identified the mechanism behind hardening of the arteries, and shown in animal studies that a generic medication normally used to treat acne could be an effective treatment for the condition.

The team, led by the University of Cambridge and King’s College London, found that a molecule once thought only to exist inside cells for the purpose of repairing DNA is also responsible for hardening of the arteries, which is associated with dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

There is no current treatment for hardening of the arteries, which is caused by build-up of bone-like calcium deposits, stiffening the arteries and restricting blood flow to organs and tissues.

Supported by funding from the British Heart Foundation, the researchers found that poly(ADP ribose), or PAR, a molecule normally associated with DNA repair, also drives the bone-like calcification of arteries.

“Artery hardening happens to everyone as they age, and is accelerated in patients on dialysis, where even children develop calcified arteries. But up until now we haven’t known what controls this process and therefore how to treat it,” said Professor Melinda Duer from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry.

“This hardening, or biomineralisation, is essential for the production of bone, but in arteries it underlies a lot of cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with ageing like dementia,” said Shanahan. “We wanted to find out what triggers the formation of calcium phosphate crystals, and why it seems to be concentrated around the collagen and elastin which makes up much of the artery wall.”

“Blood vessel calcification is a well-known risk factor for several heart and circulatory diseases, and can lead to high blood pressure and ultimately, a life-threatening heart attack,” said Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation. “Now, researchers have shown how calcification of the walls of blood vessels takes place, and how the process differs from normal bone formation. By doing so, they have been able to identify a potential treatment to reduce blood vessel calcification without any adverse effects on bone. This type of treatment would benefit many people, and we eagerly await the results of the anticipated clinical trials looking at whether this drug lives up to its early promise.”

More information: Cell Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.05.038

Provided by University of Cambridge

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