Get your blood moving: Increased blood flow could lead to healthier blood vessels

(Philadelphia, PA) Scientists have found a new way in which exercise may protect against heart disease. Increased blood flow can mimic the powerful anti-inflammatory actions of certain glucocorticoid steroid drugs, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Medicine and Engineering. The researchers discovered that an increase in shear stress the drag force exerted by blood flowing over endothelial cells that line blood vessels results in the same sort of anti-inflammatory events normally associated with high doses of steroids.

Their findings will be presented in the January 24th online edition of Circulation Research: Journal of the American Heart Association, followed by the print edition of the journal on February 21st.

"Inflammation in blood vessels has been linked to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, and here we see how the physical force of blood flow can cause cells to produce their own anti-inflammatory response," said Scott L. Diamond, PhD, director of the Penn's Biotechnology Program and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Conceivably, exercise provides the localized benefits of glucocorticoids just as potent as high doses of steroids, yet without all the systemic side effects of taking the drugs themselves."

"Perhaps this is a natural way in which exercise helps protect the vessels, by stimulating an anti-inflammatory program when the vessels are exposed to elevated blood flow. We're not talking about running a marathon here, we're just talking about getting the blood moving at high arterial levels," said Diamond.

It is the first direct evidence that the mechanical effects of blood flow have anti-inflammatory properties. According to their findings, shear stress can activate glucocorticoid receptors (GR) to enter the nucleus of the cells, an event normally triggered by glucocorticoid steroids.

Contact: Greg Lester
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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