Communication Breakdown

Hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure may result from a breakdown in cell communications, researchers in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute have discovered. The finding could pave the way for new dietary measures and pharmaceuticals to reduce cardiovascular diseases.

“It’s also a key to understanding the biological effects of inflammation, which increasingly seems to be implicated not only in heart disease but other chronic and neurologic diseases,” says Tory Hagen, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics and lead author of the study.

As they age, the cells lining artery walls no longer produce chemicals that diffuse to under-lying muscle cells. As a result, vessels remain constricted, increasing blood pressure and the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. In test tubes and animal models, the researchers identified the mechanism that impairs normal blood vessel function. The results provide new targets for therapies to prevent hardening of arteries as we age.

A diet that’s heavy in fruits and vegetables seems to slow down the loss of blood vessel function, says co-author Balz Frei, director and holder of the Linus Pauling Institute Endowed Chair. The scientists also study lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant that may play a role as a dietary supplement to help address this problem. Their findings were published in the journal Aging Cell last fall.