Bacteria linked to stress-induced heart attacks

The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa can release potentially dangerous enzymes when exposed to the stress hormone norepinephrine that may start a cascade of events ending in a heart attack, a new study suggests.

HansN./Wikimedia Commons  (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Stress can trigger heart attacks in people with a lot of plaque in their arteries. But bacteria may be the real culprit in blocking blood flow.

Hormones such as norepinephrine may free bacteria from biofilms in plaque build-ups. In their escape, the bacteria may release enzymes that have the potential to damage surrounding tissues and make it easier for plaque globs to rupture, researchers suggest June 10 in mBio. Plaque ruptures can cause clotting, which blocks blood flow to the heart.

The early work suggests that managing bacteria may be as important as managing cholesterol in warding off heart attacks. But scientists will need to test whether the bacteria create their potentially dangerous enzymes in actual arteries, not just cultures, to be sure.


photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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