Molecule that usually protects infection-fighting cells may cause plaque deposits inside arteries

adually thicken into a plaque. As plaque grows, it narrows the artery more and more. When the plaque ruptures, blood clots form that can block the artery entirely.

Low-density lipoprotein is transported inside arteries by macrophages, which engulf the cholesterol through a process called oxidation. Macrophages produce pro-inflammatory substances, which cause a secondary effect, encouraging other cells to accumulate and worsen plaque buildup in arteries.

"The oxidized lipids are cleared out by macrophage cells, but the lipids themselves are very toxic to cells and promote apoptosis (cell death)," Dr. Miyazaki said. "Therefore AIM production is a self-defense mechanism for macrophage cells, but interestingly, is in turn detrimental for the body."

Atherosclerosis is a contributing factor to a number of cardiovascular diseases the No. 1 cause of death among people in the United States. It is also highly associated with other risk factors such as smoking, obesity and diets high in fat and cholesterol.


Contact: Katherine Morales
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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