But the Georgetown scientists also demonstrated that this stress-induced atherosclerosis could be prevented by blocking a certain neuropeptide in blood vessels. They say the results, published in the October issue of the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, may someday lead to targeted therapy for individuals at risk for the condition.
The study is the newest in a series of animal studies that shows how chronic stress can be a high risk factor for accelerated atherosclerosis, a heart condition where plaque-like substances build up in the inner lining of an artery and can lead to heart attack or stroke. The study showed that the effects of stress were more rapid than the effects of a fat-rich diet in causing atherosclerosis.
"Stress is a newly emerging risk factor for cardiovascular disease but until now, we didn't know the exact mechanism involved," said Zofia Zukowska, MD, PhD, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University Medical Center. "This research provides the first well-documented, experimental evidence in animals that stress can actually induce triggers that lead to vessel blockage and atherosclerosis."
In the study, researchers performed an angioplasty procedure on two groups of rats, and then induced stress in the experimental group. Follow-up tests carried out after just two weeks of daily stress showed that this stress significantly increased blood pressure and doubled circulating levels of neuropeptide Y (NPY) compared to rats that did not undergo stress. NPY is a neurotransmitter present in the nerves surrounding blood vessels
Contact: Liz McDonald
Georgetown University Medical Center