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Researchers find process that clears cholesterol and could reverse major cause of heart attack
Date:9/8/2011

OTTAWA Sept. 8, 2011 Researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) have discovered that an ancient pathway called autophagy also mobilizes and exports cholesterol from cells.

A team led by Yves Marcel, PhD, Director of the HDL Biology Laboratory, UOHI, has shown that autophagy, a pathway preserved during evolution, functions to engulf and digest cholesterol accumulated in artery walls. This process facilitates the removal of cholesterol and may provide an entirely new target to reverse atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart attack and stroke.

Cholesterol accumulates in the walls of arteries leading to atherosclerosis, also known as narrowing of arteries and which causes blockages and reduces blood flow to the heart. This often culminates in heart attacks and strokes.

The autophagy pathway, which means self-digestion, developed early in single-cell organisms to allow the clearance of accumulated dysfunctional molecules. "The finding that autophagy also functions to digest and liberate cholesterol from cells and the fact that we know this pathway is regulated offers hope for the development of new drugs that could activate export of cholesterol the walls of arteries," said Marcel.

"There is an urgent need to understand how cholesterol accumulation in arteries can be reversed," said researcher Mireille Ouimet, who was a major contributor to the study.

Details of the research were published online earlier this summer in the journal Cell Metabolism (Cell Metab. 2011: 13(6):655-67) and illustrate how cholesterol buildup itself triggers autophagy, facilitating the release of cholesterol for transport back to the liver for elimination from the body.

It is possible that some patients with CAD have an impaired ability to clear arterial cholesterol by the autophagy pathway, said Marcel.

Marcel's work lends a greater understanding to the underlying biochemical complexities involvi
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Contact: Marlene Orton
morton@ottawaheart.ca
613-761-4427
University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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