A protein previously suspected in hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis is indeed a marker for the disease, researchers have confirmed.
Atherosclerosis is a disease of the major arterial blood vessels that is often known as hardening of the arteries; it is one of the main causes of heart attack and stroke.
An important first step in the disease is a process known as intimal thickening, whereby the intimal layer of arterial blood vessels becomes thicker because cells known as smooth muscle cells (SMCs) migrate to the area and proliferate.
The protein sLRII is thought to play a key role in this process, although its specific mechanisms of action and significance are poorly understood.
Now, Hideaki Bujo of the Chibe University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan, Wolfgang Schneider of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, and their colleagues reveal that sLRII is important for SMC migration.
Levels of sLRII in the bloodstream were shown to be associated with intimal thickening in patients with poorly regulated abnormal levels of fat in the blood.
Furthermore, intimal thickening was markedly reduced in mice lacking sLRII.
SMCs from these mice failed to migrate in response to stimulation, indicating that the reduced intimal thickening probably results from reduced SMC migration.