Scientists pinpoint location of plaque ruptures, and a protein that predicts them (FierceBio)

Scientists have uncovered new details about the mechanisms that cause plaques in arteries to rupture, paving the way for new tests to predict which patients are most at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

In the results of a study published June 5 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers from Sweden’s Lund University described how they figured out precisely where plaques break away from arteries. Their experiments also reinforced a link between plaque rupture and increased levels of the enzyme MMP-9, which could be eventually used as a biomarker—or even a treatment target.

“Sadly, those of us who work clinically discover the plaque too late, when it has already ruptured and caused serious complications like sudden death, heart attack or a stroke,” lead researcher Isabel Gonçalves, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release. “If we can learn more about the underlying mechanisms, we can initiate preventative measures or treat the dangerous plaques in time.”

Gonçalves’ team examined plaques in the carotid arteries from 188 individuals who had undergone carotid endarterectomy, a surgical procedure to remove plaque from the carotid artery. The carotid arteries are on each side of the neck, where they supply blood to the brain. Buildup of plaque there—called carotid artery disease—is behind up to a third of all strokes.

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