Scientists shed light on link between hardened arteries and autoimmune disease

Published on 10 April 2012
Scientists shed light on link between hardened arteries and autoimmune disease

German scientists have discovered a mechanism that may help to explain the link between atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

People with autoimmune diseases have long been known to face an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease, but the links between the disorders are poorly understood.

Scientists at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (LMU) in Munich have now shown that a group of immune cells that facilitate the development of atherosclerotic plaques, called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), may be responsible for the link.

The team found that pDCs are stimulated by a specific DNA-protein complex released from damaged and dying cells.

As a result, the pDCs secrete interferon proteins that stimulate immune reactions, contributing to the progression of atherosclerosis.

Lead researcher Dr Yvonne Doring, whose findings are published in Circulation journal, explained: "The pDCs themselves are stimulated by the self-antigens that set off the autoimmune reactions which result in conditions like psoriasis and SLE."

The research was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Christian Weber at LMU.

He said: "The newly discovered involvement of pDCs in the development of atherosclerosis establishes a direct link between this disorder and autoimmune reactions, and reveals why the stimulation of pDC that is characteristic of autoimmune diseases contributes to the progression of atherosclerosis."

The professor added that the findings suggest new approaches for treating a range of diseases involving chronic inflammation.