New target in the fight against heart disease

Soon after cholesterol and fat start depositing on the lining of the blood vessels that supply your heart, the smooth muscle cells that give the blood vessels strength and flexibility start to get bigger and multiply.

While scientists studying the phenomenon suspect these vascular smooth muscle cells are trying to help, this atypical behavior for these strong cells instead contributes to coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

In a bit of a vicious cycle, stents as well as bypass grafts used to treat coronary artery disease can prompt the same response.

Now Medical College of Georgia scientists report new insight into how the cells enable this unhealthy growth and a new target to intervene.

The endothelial cells that line our blood vessels are in constant communication with the layers of vascular smooth muscle cells that encase them and play a key role in regulating our blood pressure, says Yuqing Huo, MD, PhD and director of the Vascular Inflammation Program in the Vascular Biology Center at MCG.

In states of good health, for example, the two cell types share messages about how it’s time for our blood vessels to dilate a little because we are exercising. Early in vascular disease, however the conversations change, says Huo, corresponding author of the study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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