JUN 12, 2019 7:42 AM PDT

Scientists Discover Why Arteries Harden & Find a Potential Treatment

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

As we get older, our arteries slowly begin to stiffen and then harden, which can lead to a variety of serious complications, including restricted blood flow to organs, arterial disease, or aneurysms. Now scientists have found the cellular mechanism that underlies the process, and they have also shown that a drug that's already approved for acne can treat the problem. The findings have been published in Cell Reports.

False color image of calcium phosphate deposits on bone. / Credit: Melinda Duer/Cathy Shanahan

"Artery hardening happens to everyone as they age, and is accelerated in patients on dialysis, where even children develop calcified arteries. But up until now, we haven't known what controls this process and therefore how to treat it," explained the study co-leader Professor Melinda Duer of the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry.

The researchers determined that a molecule that's known for its role in DNA repair also promotes the calcification of arteries. Earlier research by this team has shown that poly(ADP ribose) or PAR is able to exit the cell to help with bone production. That result led them to hypothesize that PAR is involved in artery hardening.

"This hardening, or biomineralization, is essential for the production of bone, but in arteries, it underlies a lot of cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with aging like dementia," said study co-leader Professor Cathy Shanahan of King's College London.

The scientists used NMR spectroscopy to show that cells under stress will release PAR as they die. PAR can then form a strong attachment to calcium ions, and collects the ions into large droplets that then stick to the parts of arteries that make them elastic. The calcium droplets solidify there, making the arteries hard.

Now that the team had connected PAR to artery calcification, they looked for a way to inhibit the process. They turned to a rat model of chronic kidney disease to show that a common acne medication called minocycline can prevent calcium from accumulating in the circulatory system. They are hopeful that trials with patients can proceed in twelve to eighteen months.

"We had to find an existing molecule that is cheap and safe, otherwise, it would be decades before we would get a treatment," said Shanahan. "If something has already been shown to be safe in humans, the journey to the clinic can be much faster."

Learn more about peripheral artery disease from the video.

"Blood vessel calcification is a well-known risk factor for several heart and circulatory diseases, and can lead to high blood pressure and ultimately, a life-threatening heart attack," said Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation. "Now, researchers have shown how calcification of the walls of blood vessels takes place, and how the process differs from normal bone formation. By doing so, they have been able to identify a potential treatment to reduce blood vessel calcification without any adverse effects on bone. This type of treatment would benefit many people, and we eagerly await the results of the anticipated clinical trials looking at whether this drug lives up to its early promise."


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Cambridge, Cell Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
What We Call Parkinson's Disease May Actually be Two Distinct Disorders
SEP 29, 2020
What We Call Parkinson's Disease May Actually be Two Distinct Disorders
Researchers have used imaging tools to show that Parkinson's disease may actually be two different diseases, one that st ...
OCT 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Growing an Organism From One Cell
OCT 03, 2020
Growing an Organism From One Cell
Scientists have used model organisms to view the first few hours of development in various organisms. A single cell is f ...
OCT 15, 2020
Neuroscience
Neurometabolism: A bold, new frontier
OCT 15, 2020
Neurometabolism: A bold, new frontier
Billions of neurons communicate with each other through trillions of synapses to create a functioning, unique system we ...
OCT 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
OCT 20, 2020
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
In this photo by OceanX, researchers off the coast of Brazil collected Pyrosoma atlanticum specimens with a special robo ...
OCT 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
OCT 22, 2020
How a Gene Variant Raises the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis
Now that sequencing the whole human genome is easier, faster, and cheaper than it used to be, scientists have been able ...
NOV 16, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Gut Microbes Deactivate a Common Diabetes Drug
NOV 16, 2020
How Gut Microbes Deactivate a Common Diabetes Drug
Metformin is a frequently prescribed type 2 diabetes treatment but its effects can vary significantly. In some patients ...
Loading Comments...