In atherosclerosis, plaque builds up on the inner walls of arteries that deliver blood to the body. Studying mice and tissue samples from the arteries of patients, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggest this accumulation is driven, at least in part, by processes similar to the plaque formation implicated in brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The study is published in the journal Science Signaling.
A look behind the scenes in the process of plaque accumulating in arteries, the new study is the first to show that another buildup is taking place. Immune cells attempting to counteract plaque formation begin to accumulate misshapen proteins. This buildup of protein junk inside the cells interferes with their ability to do their jobs.
Protein buildup is widely studied in the brain — accumulation of proteins such as amyloid beta and tau are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative neurological disorders. But until now, the process of misshapen protein buildup within cells has not been implicated in atherosclerosis.
“In an attempt to fix the damage characteristic of atherosclerosis, immune cells called macrophages go into the lining of the arteries,” said senior author Babak Razani, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine. “The macrophage is like a firefighter going into a burning building. But in this case, the firefighter is overcome by the conditions. So another firefighter goes in to save the first and is likewise overcome. And another goes in, and the process continues to build on itself and worsen.”
Feature article originally published in Washington University’s News Hub: Atherosclerosis is Alzheimer’s disease of blood vessels, study suggests