A landmark study, led by a team of scientists from King’s College London and the University of Cambridge, has described the mechanism responsible for the hardening of arteries. The research also points to a common antibiotic as a potential new treatment to prevent this condition.
As we age, calcium deposits tend to build up in the walls of our arteries. This arterial stiffening is associated with a number of diseases, from heart attack to stroke and dementia. Until now scientists did not know exactly what was causing these calcium aggregations in arteries.
“This hardening, or biomineralization, is essential for the production of bone, but in arteries it underlies a lot of cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with aging like dementia,” explains Cathy Shanahan, a researcher from King’s College London. “We wanted to find out what triggers the formation of calcium phosphate crystals, and why it seems to be concentrated around the collagen and elastin which makes up much of the artery wall.”
Using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the scientists discovered the culprit behind the entire process was a molecule called PAR, or poly(ADP ribose). It was revealed that PAR is produced when a cell dies, and once released it begins mopping up calcium ions until they ultimately aggregate into crystals and stick onto artery walls.