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How fat and cholesterol block arteries to cause heart attack discovered

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Netrin-1 promotes atherosclerosis

New research shows how arteries become blocked with plaque known as atherosclerosis that may pave the way for new heart disease prevention strategies. In their finding, researchers discovered fat and cholesterol accumulate in arteries from secretion of a molecule called netrin-1.

The study, published in the journal Nature Immunology, explains how researchers discovered the netrin-1 blocks the migration of macrophages that are a type of immune fighting white blood cell. Macrophages engulf and digest bacteria and other foreign debris in the body.

Scientists know artery plaque that breaks off and travels to cause heart attack and even stroke have high numbers of macrophages. When cholesterol builds up in the walls of the arteries, inflammation ensues, macrophages become bigger and they get trapped, contributing to narrow arteries and obstructed blood flow to the heart or brain or other major organs.

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The new study shows the reason macrophages get stuck in arteries to cause blockage is because netrin-1 sends signals that immobilize the normally active cells.

Janine M. van Gils, PhD, New York University Langone Medical Center and lead author of the study said, “This discovery provides new clues to help reduce the amount of plaque in arteries and the threat of atherosclerosis, a major cause of mortality in Western countries.”

The authors say studies genetically eliminating netrin-1 can minimize the amount of artery plaque or atherosclerosis in arteries to stimulate macrophage migration, which could help prevent fatal heart attacks.

Nature Immunology: doi:10.1038/ni.2205
“The neuroimmune guidance cue netrin-1 promotes atherosclerosis by inhibiting the emigration of macrophages from plaques”
Janine M van Gils, et al.
January 8, 2012

Image of artery plaque: Wikimedia Commons