Blood protein could mark atherosclerosis

Researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute have ferreted out a blood protein that could help diagnose atherosclerosis, a thickening of the arterial wall that can lead to heart attack.

As detailed in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the scientists discovered that blood levels of angiopoietin-like protein 2, or angptl2, are 6 times higher in mice with coronary heart disease than in those without. Furthermore, blood angptl2 levels increase with age in healthy subjects but leap much more quickly in those with high cholesterol and pre-atherosclerotic lesions, according to the study.

The revelation could change how doctors diagnose atherosclerosis, the researchers say, as current methods rely largely on angiographic imaging, which can only detect arterial narrowing when it's already severe.

"Although much work remains to be done to broaden our knowledge of this protein's mechanisms of action, angiopoietin-like protein 2 may represent an early biomarker not only to prevent vascular damage but also to predict atherosclerotic disease," lead researcher Éric Thorin said in a statement.

Thorin has been studying the underlying mechanisms of atherosclerosis for the past 15 years, most recently isolating angptl2 as a cause of vascular inflammation. Blood levels of the protein have been linked not only to cardiovascular disease but also to diabetes, obesity and cancer, and further research on just how angptl2 works could lead to more reliable diagnostics, study co-author Anil Nigam said.

"Prevention is the ideal solution to delay the onset of atherosclerosis, and an early blood marker such as angptl2--if future clinical studies confirm this finding--will serve as an important tool to identify at-risk subjects who do not present with any symptoms of atherosclerotic disease," Nigam said in a statement.

- read the announcement
- check out the study in JAHA

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