And the test used to see those dying cells in the bloodstream may one day help lupus patients and people with other diseases understand, predict and do something about their personal risk of heart disease.
At American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2003, researchers from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center will present their findings that levels of apoptotic endothelial cells detected in the blood of 43 young female lupus patients correlated well with the patients' blood vessel function and lupus symptoms. The lupus patients had no other major risk factors for heart or vascular disease.
The study compared lupus patients with 43 older patients with clogged heart arteries, and 43 healthy controls. The lupus patients had abnormal vascular function that was impaired to the same extent seen in the heart disease patients -- despite the fact that the lupus patients were approximately half the age of the heart disease control patients. Impaired blood vessel or vascular function -- also known as endothelial function -- is an accurate predictor of heart disease risk.
But even the heart patients had fewer dying endothelial cells in their blood than the lupus patients, suggesting a rapid death rate of these protective vessel-lining cells. It's the first time apoptotic endothelial cells have been detected in the blood of lupus patients.
"Because of lupus, these women in their 30s had the vascular health of 65-year-olds with coronary artery disease, and therefore presumably a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke," says lead author Sanjay Rajagopalan, M.D., the U-M vascular medicine specialist and associate professor of internal medicine who will present the study. "The
Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System