SEP 29, 2016 12:05 PM PDT

Statins Prevent Heart Disease By Influencing the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Statin drugs are approved by the FDA to lower LDL cholesterol, so-called “bad cholesterol,” as a treatment for heart disease. They do so by reducing inflammation that contributes to atherosclerotic plaques, but how? Scientists from the Karolinska Institutet aimed to answer this question and more in their new study published in The Journal of the American Heart Association.
health.clevelandclinic.org
Along with heart attack and stroke, atherosclerosis causes a condition called intermittent claudication, characterized by leg pain stimulated by exercise due to insufficient blood flow caused by blocked arteries. Claudication is the most prominent symptom of peripheral artery disease. 

Progression of atherosclerosis is marked by growing plaques of dead cells, oxidized LDL cholesterol, and two types of immune cells: T lymphocytes and dendritic cells, which are responsible in part for chronic inflammation in addition to their normal immune functions. To study in further detail how statins interact with the immune system, Karolinska Institutet scientists set out to determine the interaction between T lymphocytes and dendritic cells.

They did so by looking directly at atherosclerotic plaques obtain from human patients undergoing surgery. They found that oxidized LDL cholesterol activated inflammatory T lymphocytes from the plaque through the dendritic cells, but in the presence of statins, the process was interrupted. Statins blocked the inflammatory T lymphocytes, instead stimulating the production of regulatory T lymphocytes, which mediate the inflammatory response. Additionally, statins recharged the dendritic cells so they were anti-inflammatory.

"For the first time, we're able to show that an immunological treatment for atherosclerosis can actually work,” said professor Johan Frostegard of the study’s significance. 

However, Frostegard is no stranger to the potential negative side effects of statins. Past studies have shown that these drugs have carcinogenic properties in certain circumstances due to their repression of gene activators, called microRNAs. Specifically, statins repress let7c, which normally inhibits tumor growth. In the current study, researchers found let7c to be associated with oxidized LDL-induced T lymphocyte activation. Nevertheless, Frostegard believes statin drugs to be safe in most situations.

"If a patient has a tumor in which let7c plays an important part, the statin effect could be adverse,” Frostegard explained. “At the same time, statins reduce inflammation and that can lower the risk of cancer, and large metastudies show no general increase in cancer risk."

Frostegard’s study was recently published in The Journal of the American Heart Association.
 


Sources: Karolinska Institutet, Food and Drug Administration, University of Maryland Medical Center
 
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
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 25, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Hydrochloroquine Increases Risk of Death by COVID-19
MAY 25, 2020
Hydrochloroquine Increases Risk of Death by COVID-19
Researchers have found that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for COVID-19. Their study found that it lea ...
JUN 01, 2020
Cardiology
Most Americans Do Not Adhere to All Recommended Healthy Behaviors
JUN 01, 2020
Most Americans Do Not Adhere to All Recommended Healthy Behaviors
Leading public health institutions, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Dise ...
JUN 25, 2020
Cardiology
Using RNA to Predict Acute Ischemic Strokes
JUN 25, 2020
Using RNA to Predict Acute Ischemic Strokes
Strokes are a leading cause of death and long term-disability across the globe. Ischemic strokes (IS) or acute ischemic ...
JUL 18, 2020
Cardiology
Diagnosing Arterial Stenosis with Computational Modeling
JUL 18, 2020
Diagnosing Arterial Stenosis with Computational Modeling
Our understanding of cardiovascular health has increased by leaps and bounds. One of the few issues that lag behind the ...
AUG 25, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Blood-Pressure Medications Lower The Risk of Depression
AUG 25, 2020
Blood-Pressure Medications Lower The Risk of Depression
Do commonly prescribed blood pressure medications increase the risk of depression? The answer is No—according to a ...
Loading Comments...