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Keeping artery plaques under control

Calming a gene called CHOP may stabilize plaques and limit clot formation

3:11pm, May 5, 2009

Toning down a gene called CHOP might lessen the risk of arterial plaque ruptures that can cause heart attacks and strokes, according to a study in mice that appears in the May 6 Cell Metabolism.

Plaques that form inside arteries are the hallmark of atherosclerosis and contain a witches’ brew of cholesterol, inflammatory proteins, immune cells, calcium and other components. Plaques are ticking time bombs because they can rupture or even leak, causing blood to clot up and block the vessel. In a coronary artery, that’s a heart attack. In the brain, a stroke.

Yet very few of these bombs go off. By most estimates, only 2 to 3 percent of plaques ever leak and trigger clotting.

“The million-dollar question is, what is it about these 2 to 3 percent of lesions that makes them progress to cause disease?” says cell biologist and physician Ira Tabas of Columbia University.

Scientists know part of the answer. C

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