Basic information on Atherosclerosis was wrong: Study

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, School of Medicine has revealed that the efforts put in by doctors for combating atherosclerotic plaques that accumulate in our arteries and eventually cause strokes and heart attacks are based on a number of false beliefs. According to the researchers, doctors, so far, have been treating patients based on some wrong information about the formation and fundamental composition of atherosclerotic plaques.

These new findings will compel researchers to re-evaluate the approaches adopted by them for developing treatments for atherosclerosis and discard the wrong fundamental assumptions they had about the condition.

Gary Owens of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center of UVA, said that most deaths in the world occurs due to complications caused by atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries. He added that the disease reaches its climax when a plaque caused by the condition ruptures. Owens warned that if anything like that occurs in a large coronary artery, the result would be catastrophic.


Owens said that a ruptured atherosclerotic plaque can result in formation of a big clot, which can block flow of blood to the downstream areas. The majority of the heart attacks are caused by such events. Such clots can also dislodge causing strokes; for those who don’t know: a stroke occurs when the clot lodges into a blood vessel of the patient’s brain.

According to Owens, such detrimental effects of the plaques make understanding the factors controlling their stability extremely important.

Before this study revealed the reality, doctors used to believe that the smooth muscle cells, the cells that assist blood vessels to dilate and contract, helps the body to fight against the atherosclerotic plaques. Those cells were thought to travel from their original location within the blood vessel walls to the developing plaques with the aim of walling of the dying cells, fat buildups, and all other nasty substances forming the plaque.

In other words, the doctors believed that the smoother the muscle cells within a wall, the more stable the atherosclerotic plaque would be and the more insignificant will be the danger posed by it.

However, the research carried out at the UVA suggests that all those previous notions are incomplete. According to the researchers conducting this new study, the role played by the smooth muscle cells is more complex than previously believed. The problem has become even more complicated as some smooth muscle cells got misidentified as an immune cell type known as macrophages. There were also some macrophages that were pretending to be smooth muscle cells.

The entire study can be read online by visiting the journal Nature Medicine.