Researchers closer to understanding actions of cells involved in atherosclerosis

Researchers at St. Michael's Hospital are one step closer to understanding why plaque bursts in coronary arteries and causes heart attacks.

The clue might be something called microRNA-145. MicroRNAs are short chains of bossy molecules that scientists are increasingly coming to realize control a wide variety of biological processes.

Dr. Subodh Verma, a cardiac surgeon at St. Michael's, published a paper in the journal Circulation today, describing for the first time how microRNA-145 gene therapy can drastically reduce the severity and progression of atherosclerosis in mice.

In addition this approach appeared to make the more stable and less prone to burst.

Atherosclerosis, commonly called hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which fat, cholesterol and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques. It is the leading cause of death in Canada.

Dr. Verma said most heart attacks occur when plaques rupture like a broken eggshell and release their contents into the artery. Researchers are therefore looking for ways to reduce the size of plaques and make them more stable.

One of the key questions is what causes the outer layer of the plaque to finally burst – a layer of known as the fibrous cap. These cells undergo "phenotypic transformation" in response to various stressful environments and , making them more likely to rupture and cause heart attacks.

MicroRNA-145 is one of the factors that appear to play a critical role in preventing the transformation of into rupture-prone cells.

In atherosclerosis-prone animals, microRNA-145-based gene therapy reduced the plaque size by approximately 50 per cent and increased the collagen content of the plaque and fibrous cap area by 40 to 50 per cent, indicating that this therapy can reduce and also make it less prone to rupture, the inciting event of heart attacks.

The researchers also found that in human atherosclerotic plaques, the amount of microRNA-145 was reduced compared to normal arteries that were free of plaque, providing supporting human insights to the animal study.

"Atherosclerosis continues to be the number one killer in modern societies and finding new ways to treat this problem are needed," said Dr. Verma.

Dr. Fina Lovren, a senior research associate at St Michael's Hospital, carried out the experimental work on this project under the direction of Dr. Verma.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Inflammation worsens danger due to atherosclerosis

Jan 22, 2009

Current research suggests that inflammation increases the risk of plaque rupture in atherosclerosis. The related report by Ovchinnikova et al, "T cell activation leads to reduced collagen maturation in atherosclerotic plaques ...

Researchers discover new culprit in atherosclerosis

Jan 09, 2012

A new study by NYU Langone Medical Center researchers identified a new culprit that leads to atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fat and cholesterol that hardens into plaque and narrows arteries. The research, published ...

Research shows why certain arterial plaques can turn deadly

May 05, 2009

A common misconception about arterial plaque is that it inevitably leads to a heart attack or a stroke. New research at Columbia University Medical Center, however, sheds light on why so few plaques in any given individual ...

Recommended for you

ASHG: MI without substantial CAD is minimally heritable

Oct 21, 2014

(HealthDay)—The presence of myocardial infarction (MI) without substantial coronary artery disease (CAD) is not familial, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of ...

New treatment for inherited cholesterol

Oct 21, 2014

At the London Olympics in 2012, South African swimmer Cameron van den Burgh dedicated his world record-breaking win in the 100m breast stroke to one of his biggest rivals and closest friends, Alexander Dale ...

User comments