FEB 10, 2020 8:02 AM PST

Blocking Problem Protein Shows Promise for Preventing Heart Attacks

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Over time, atherosclerosis, a disease that causes fatty plaques to build up in the arteries, limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to vital organs. Often leading to a heart attack, stroke and even death, researchers at Oxford University have now found a protein that triggers this process. 

Lifestyle choices from smoking to eating high-fat diets tend to damage blood vessels- with areas at which they bend or branch off becoming particularly vulnerable to chronic inflammation, and thus the build-up of plaques. These plaques then make cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes more likely. Although known for some time, the reason why this happened was largely unknown. This has now changed however as new research has shown that a protein called Plexin D1, that detects disturbances in blood flow caused by damage to arteries, plays a key role in the formation of these plaques. 

Ellie Tzima, lead author of the research said, “We used very tiny magnetic ‘tweezers’ to pull on the Plexin D1 protein, and we found that it responded to the pulling force by releasing signals that start a domino effect, ultimately resulting in plaque that can go on to cause a heart attack.”

While testing the protein's role in mice, Tzima and her team found that Plexin D1 tends to exist in two shapes: either a closed ring, or an open shape, similar to a right-angled flip phone. In particular, they found that its shape affects its behavior: while the right angled variety responded to the tweezers, the ring-shaped version ignored them. 

To understand the implications of this finding, the researchers then engineered cells to only contain the ring-shaped Plexin D1. In the end, they found that these cells did not respond to changes in blood flow, and thus didn’t trigger plaque-building processes. They then engineered mice to have the same protein profile. In doing so, they found that even when blood flow was disturbed, their arteries accumulated far less plaque, even when consuming a diet high in fat. 

Although this finding is not directly applicable to humans just yet, the researchers say that it nevertheless points towards a new target for drug development to tackle atherosclerosis. Tzima said, “We’re now screening drug libraries to try a drug that blocks only the chair-shaped Plexin D1, so that we can block plaques before they even start.”

 

Sources: New Atlas, Fierce Biotech and Nature 

 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
APR 23, 2020
Cardiology
Blood Pressure Spikes in Young Adults Linked to Heart Disease Later on
APR 23, 2020
Blood Pressure Spikes in Young Adults Linked to Heart Disease Later on
Researchers have found that young adults in their 20’s and 30’s who experience inconsistent blood pressure m ...
APR 30, 2020
Cardiology
Nighttime Blood Pressure Changes Linked to Cerebrovascular Disease and Impaired Cognition
APR 30, 2020
Nighttime Blood Pressure Changes Linked to Cerebrovascular Disease and Impaired Cognition
When most people go to sleep, their blood pressure decreases, or dips, compared to daytime values. However, for some, a ...
MAY 15, 2020
Technology
What is HARVEY?
MAY 15, 2020
What is HARVEY?
One of the biggest challenges facing clinical workers is trying to explore user interface treatment options easily witho ...
JUL 23, 2020
Cardiology
Protecting the Heart After a Heart Attack
JUL 23, 2020
Protecting the Heart After a Heart Attack
Cardiovascular disease accounts for thirty percent of mortalities around the world. These diseases start small and slowl ...
AUG 18, 2020
Cardiology
A Key Juncture Between Diabetes and Heart Repair
AUG 18, 2020
A Key Juncture Between Diabetes and Heart Repair
Patients with diabetes are often at increased cardiovascular risk. Recent research points to a possible new target for t ...
SEP 21, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Smart Wearable Patch Signals Trouble Following Traumatic Injury
SEP 21, 2020
Smart Wearable Patch Signals Trouble Following Traumatic Injury
An ambulance pulls up to the site of a car accident, sirens blazing. Paramedics assess the crash victims, looking for si ...
Loading Comments...