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
JUN 11, 2019
Health & Medicine
JUN 11, 2019
Do you sleep with a light or TV on? It may be causing weight gain.
Are you exposed to any artificial light while sleeping? Exposure to artificial light at night could be a risk factor for obesity and weight gain, according...
SEP 10, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
SEP 10, 2019
Gene Mutations Link Flu Infections and Heart Trouble
Sometimes people develop life-threatening heart complications when they're infected with the flu....
JAN 08, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 08, 2020
Insecticides Linked to Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death
New research from the University of Iowa has shown that prolonged exposure to common household insecticides may increase one’s risk for developing ca...
JAN 15, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 15, 2020
Women's Blood Vessels Age Faster than Men's, Study shows
Around 75 million Americans have high blood pressure, or roughly 1 in every 3 adults. Now, new research has shown that women’s blood vessels age fast...
JAN 17, 2020
Cardiology
JAN 17, 2020
Eating Walnuts Reduces Risk for Heart Disease
Walnuts may be more than just a tasty snack. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that they may also promote healthy gut bacteria, wh...
FEB 21, 2020
Cardiology
FEB 21, 2020
Longer Sitting Times Linked to Developing Heart Disease
Longer sitting times has been associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease among overweight and obese women following menopause. For the study...
Loading Comments...