3D illustration, close up of red blood cells flowing through artery
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 13, 2024 ·  4 min read

Promising Research Finds New Strategy to Prevent Clogged Arteries

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the number one cause of death worldwide, with atherosclerosis—a buildup of plaque in the arteries—being a primary contributor. Recent research has uncovered a new way to prevent clogged arteries from ever happening. This is done by enhancing a cellular process known as chaperone-mediated autophagy (CMA). Here are the findings, their implications, and the potential future applications of this research:

Understanding Atherosclerosis

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Before we learn about the new approach, we need to understand how the system works: 

Atherosclerosis takes place when fatty deposits, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances accumulate in artery walls. This buildup, called plaque, hardens and narrows the arteries, restricting blood flow and causing serious health issues like heart attacks and strokes. The development of atherosclerosis can start early in life and slowly but surely manifest after decades of silence.

The main causes of atherosclerosis include unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and an overall sedentary lifestyle.1 Over time, these factors lead to plaque formations that can rupture, which can cause potentially fatal blocks in the arteries.2 The most dangerous outcome is when plaque ruptures, causing immediate blockages that can result in heart attacks or strokes.

The Role of Chaperone-Mediated Autophagy (CMA)

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Chaperone-mediated autophagy is a cellular housekeeping process that breaks down and recycles damaged proteins. Discovered and named by Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo, CMA helps maintain cellular health by targeting specific proteins for degradation. This process regulates a number of functions, including lipid metabolism and DNA repair.3

As people age, CMA activity declines, leading to a higher accumulation of damaged proteins and contributing to various age-related diseases. These include neurodegenerative conditions and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Cuervo’s research has highlighted the importance of CMA in protecting against these conditions, particularly atherosclerosis. Her team’s recent study focused on enhancing CMA to prevent the progression of plaque buildup in the arteries.

Read More: 10 Foods That You Should Eat Daily For Clean Arteries

New Findings: Boosting CMA to Combat Atherosclerosis

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Dr. Cuervo’s latest research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and demonstrates that increasing CMA activity can curb atherosclerosis. The study involved promoting atherosclerosis in mice by feeding them a high-fat diet and monitoring the effects on CMA activity and plaque formation.

Initially, CMA activity increased due to the high-fat diet, helping protect the arterial cells. But prolonged exposure to the diet led to significant plaque buildup and a subsequent decline in CMA activity. The mice genetically modified to maintain high CMA activity had a significantly reduced plaque formation, and the plaques that did develop were smaller and less severe compared to those in control mice.

These findings suggest that enhancing CMA can protect against the harmful effects of a high-fat diet on artery health, potentially offering a new strategy for preventing atherosclerosis and other related cardiovascular diseases.

Human Implications

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The relevance of these findings extends beyond animal models. Analysis of carotid artery segments from stroke patients revealed that individuals with higher CMA activity levels were less likely to suffer a second stroke. This correlation indicates that CMA activity could be a prediction marker for cardiovascular risk levels and a target for therapeutic intervention.

Dr. Cuervo and her colleagues are developing drug compounds that can safely and effectively boost CMA activity in human cells. These compounds have shown promise in preclinical studies, suggesting a potential new treatment avenue for prevention and management.

Read More: 12 Ways Pomegranate Supports Cardiovascular Health

Stopping Atherosclerosis Before it Starts

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While improving CMA is a promising new strategy, traditional methods remain vital. Lifestyle changes and medical interventions play crucial but complemntary roles in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is essential for managing risk factors associated with atherosclerosis:

  • Diet: Consuming fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting saturated and trans fats can help reduce cholesterol levels and prevent plaque buildup.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity like walking, swimming, or cycling helps strengthen your heart, improve blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.
  • Smoking: Quitting smoking dramatically reduces the risk of developing coronary artery disease and related complications.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise reduces the burden on the heart and lowers the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Medical Interventions

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For those at high risk or already diagnosed with atherosclerosis, medical interventions may include:

  • Medications: Statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs, blood pressure medications, and anti-platelet agents can help manage and reduce the progression of atherosclerosis.
  • Surgical Procedures: In severe cases, procedures such as angioplasty, stent placement, or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) may be required to restore proper blood flow and prevent heart attacks or strokes.

Conclusion

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The discovery that boosting chaperone-mediated autophagy can prevent and mitigate atherosclerosis represents a major advancement in cardiovascular research. Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo’s groundbreaking work opens new and exciting avenues for therapeutic intervention, potentially improving the odds for millions at risk of cardiovascular disease. Combined with traditional lifestyle and medical strategies, enhancing CMA activity could be a powerful tool in the fight against atherosclerosis and its devastating consequences.

Read More: 9 Foods You Should Eat Regularly To Support Your Arterial Health

Sources

  1. Preventing Coronary Artery Disease.” NYU Langone
  2. All about blocked arteries.” BHF
  3. Researchers find new strategy for preventing clogged arteries.” Medical Express.  Albert Einstein . march 28, 2022.