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To treat the heart, start with the gut

Potential drug targeting intestinal bacteria stops chain reaction that leads to artery plaque

12:00pm, December 17, 2015
mouse arteries

GUT CHECK  Mice predisposed to heart disease and fed a diet high in choline — a compound found in meat and eggs — had plaque buildup in their arteries (left: plaques, red; artery, blue). Mice also given a drug to prevent their gut microbes from breaking down the choline had much less artery clogging (right). 

Blocking gut reactions could help defend against heart disease.

Intestinal microbes break down the essential nutrient choline, abundant in meat and eggs, into a compound that leads to hardening of the arteries. A drug candidate that prevents the microbes from making this chemical conversion can reduce both the amount of this compound and the extent of artery damage in mice, researchers report online December 17 in Cell.

Manipulating gut bacteria to treat various diseases has clinical promise, says physician and microbiologist Martin Blaser of the New York University Langone Medical Center. “It’s a very exciting idea that may change the future therapies that are available for doctors.” He notes that this study addresses a particularly important and common disease: atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up inside arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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