To further support his results, Dr. Jo's team, in collaboration with Emory cardiologist W. Robert Taylor, MD, and Emory vascular surgeon J. David Vega, MD, screened endothelial cells from human coronary arteries of patients with atherosclerotic lesions to test for expression of BMP4. BMP4 expression was undetectable in arteries with minimal disease, but it was strongly expressed in endothelial patches found overlying an early form of atherosclerotic lesions called "foam cell lesions."
Although high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and a diet high in saturated fat are known to increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, the risk of physical inactivity is comparable to other factors, according to the American Heart Association. "The molecular biological response to increases or decreases in blood flow might help us explain why physical inactivity promotes disease," Dr. Jo said. "Increasing one's heart rate through vigorous exercise causes blood to flow faster through the vessels, and some exercise-related benefits may be due to endothelial expression of certain genes and proteins."
Dr. Jo hopes to use his findings about BMP4 to develop new diagnostic tests or gene-based therapies to prevent plaque formation.