Cholesterol crystals incite inflammation in coronary arteries

May 18, 2010
The protruding elements seen in the different slides are cholesterol crystals. Those elements are arising from within the artery wall, causing tearing and damage to the artery. Credit: MSU University Relations

Cholesterol crystals, known to be a catalyst for heart attacks and strokes, also cause cells to send out danger signals that can lead to the inflammation and hardening of arteries, according to a Michigan State University cardiologist.

The discovery by George Abela, chief of the cardiology division in MSU's College of Human Medicine, and a team of researchers provides new insights into how arteries harden — a process called atherosclerosis — and gives hope for new and early treatments of cardiovascular disease.

The findings are published in the most recent edition of the journal Nature.

Past research has shown that as cholesterol builds up along the wall of an artery, it crystallizes from a liquid to a solid state and expands, said Abela, who has been studying cholesterol crystals for nearly a decade. As the crystals expand, they can disrupt plaque and cause clotting, leading to cardiac attacks. That research also was recently highlighted recently in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology.

In a new discovery, Abela and the team — while looking at causes of during atherosclerosis in mice — found that the once cholesterol crystals form in the arterial wall, they activate a biomarker called NLRP3 that induces inflammation.

"What we have found now, at the , is that the crystals are an early cause rather than a late consequence of inflammation," Abela said.

The discovery could lead to new treatments for heart disease.

"Since cholesterol crystals form very early in the process of , with great potential to aggravate atherosclerosis, we can target them early on," Abela said. "We can target new therapies by reducing cholesterol crystal deposits early on or use an inhibitor to block the inflammatory biomarker."

Abela added that the biomarker activated by the crystals could be a better indicator of potential cardiovascular disease than others, such as serum cholesterol, or the amount of cholesterol found in the .

"Now we treat on the systematic level; with this discovery we can also treat it the cellular level," he said.

Explore further: Researchers try to make sure herpes does not find a home

More information: To review the article in Nature, go to www.nature.com/nature/journal/… ull/nature08938.html . To review the article in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology, go to www.lipidjournal.com/article/S… (10)00102-9/abstract .

Related Stories

Damage inflicted during cardiac attacks more widespread

Nov 11, 2008

Cholesterol crystals released in the bloodstream during a cardiac attack or stroke can damage artery linings much further away from the site of the attack, leaving survivors at greater risk than previously thought.

Research explains link between cholesterol and heart disease

Sep 18, 2007

Cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis – a condition that greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke – by suppressing the activity of a key protein that protects the heart and blood vessels, researchers ...

Study shows why cholesterol damages arteries

Apr 28, 2010

The presence of crystalline cholesterol in the walls of our arteries is a major cause of life-threatening inflammation. This has been demonstrated in a study jointly run by the universities of Massachusetts, Bonn and Munich. ...

Two drugs may stabilize plaques in atherosclerosis

Nov 13, 2006

Two drugs that a Wake Forest University School of Medicine research team has been investigating for lupus for several years may stabilize atherosclerotic plaque in the walls of arteries and help avert heart attacks and strokes. ...

Inflammation worsens danger due to atherosclerosis

Jan 22, 2009

Current research suggests that inflammation increases the risk of plaque rupture in atherosclerosis. The related report by Ovchinnikova et al, "T cell activation leads to reduced collagen maturation in atherosclerotic plaques ...

Recommended for you

Researchers try to make sure herpes does not find a home

10 minutes ago

The immune system is great at making sure infections such as the herpes virus do not repeatedly infect a person, a condition known as a superinfection. Yet how the immune system combats superinfection is ...

A new way to diagnose malaria, using magnetic fields

18 hours ago

Over the past several decades, malaria diagnosis has changed very little. After taking a blood sample from a patient, a technician smears the blood across a glass slide, stains it with a special dye, and ...

How Alzheimer's peptides shut down cellular powerhouses

Aug 29, 2014

The failing in the work of nerve cells: An international team of researchers led by Prof. Dr. Chris Meisinger from the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Freiburg has discovered ...

User comments : 0