Everyone has seen a commercial about how bad fats can build up into a plaque into a blood vessel. This is called atherosclerosis, and it is one of the primary drivers of cardiovascular issues.
Atherosclerosis is the process of cholesterol, fats, and immune cells combined into a plaque that sticks to the arteries’ side. These plaques are huge problems for the body, as they restrict blood flow and cause stress to the vessels carrying blood through the body. On top of that, they can rupture and cause mobile plaque elements to get caught in smaller blood vessels and completely block blood flow.
The immune system plays a significant role in atherosclerosis. The immune system is responsible for the inflammation reaction, which is an aspect of plaque build-up and rupturing. This aspect of atherosclerosis has attracted a new study from a team at Hannover Medical School in Germany, who thought that this might help them differentiate between two types of carotid stenosis (the narrowing of carotid arteries due to atherosclerosis).
In a new study, the team was interested in whether or not measuring cytokines (signaling molecules released by immune cells) could differentiate between symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid stenosis. Symptomatic carotid stenosis is treated with a stent, where asymptomatic carotid stenosis does not have a clear treatment, however. Therefore identifying which type of carotid stenosis a patient has would assist in prognosis.
To do this, the team gathered 50 patients with either symptomatic or asymptomatic carotid stenosis and collected data on their cytokine levels pre-surgery as well as during a 90-day follow-up. What they found was that high levels of the cytokine CXCR4 indicated symptomatic carotid stenosis. They also identified a cytokine profile that indicated symptomatic carotid stenosis. The team suggests that this might be due to the constant inflammatory signaling in symptomatic patients, which wouldn’t be present in asymptomatic patients.
This cytokine profile identified in this study could diagnose symptomatic or asymptomatic carotid stenosis. This would assist doctors in planning out a patient’s treatment. The team concludes, “While we did not find an association of these circulating biomarkers with features of plaque vulnerability, presence of CXCR4-positive inflammatory cells was associated both with sCS and vulnerability characteristics. However, systemic inter-cytokine correlations were distinct and pronounced in sCS compared with aCS patients even at a three months follow-up, probably indicating a persisting pro-inflammatory milieu.”