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Canada: Medical Research

Abnormal Mineral Accumulation in Arteries

| Editor: Alexander Stark

McGill research team studies how calcium compounds accumulate in the arteries
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McGill research team studies how calcium compounds accumulate in the arteries (Source: McGill University)

A team of researchers from McGill University has advanced the scientific understanding of how calcium compounds accumulate in arteries, a complication often seen in patients with chronic kidney disease and diabetes. Mineralized arteries may affect heart functions, leading to death in some instances.

Montreal/Canada — Using the tools of the Canadian Light Source, the researchers at McGill University examined the mineralized arteries of genetically modified laboratory mice and found that the pathway in the body that leads to what laypeople call “hardening of the arteries” is not what medical experts previously assumed.

Earlier, team leader Marta Cerruti’s long-time collaborator Monzur Murshed (a researcher at McGill University and a co-author of the current study) and his trainees demonstrated that elastin, the material that gives arteries their elasticity so they can expand and contract in response to the pumping of the heart to facilitate blood flow, is a critical determinant of mineral deposition. Their study showed that collagen, which is essential for the normal mineralization of our bones and teeth, is not responsible for arterial mineralization.

Elastin Mineralizes First

The first part that mineralizes in the arteries of the researchers' genetic model is the elastin part and not, as they expected, collagen. This is very different from what happens in bone and teeth because there, collagen is the material that mineralizes.

Since collagen is also present in the arteries, the team wondered why the minerals get deposited in association with elastin in arteries.

Using the CLS’s SXRMB beamline, Cerruti’s team has discovered the presence of early stage calcium phosphate minerals in the elastin-containing layers of the diseased mouse arteries.

Preventing Vascular Calcification

Cerruti is hopeful the findings of this research will lead to a therapy that will block mineral accumulation in the arteries of patients who are prone to this condition. The team’s latest study is published in the February 2018 edition of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

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The paper’s conclusion states that an effective strategy to prevent vascular calcification may involve intervening at the stage where calcium phosphate minerals begin crystallizing. It may be possible to selectively dissolve these nascent crystals with appropriately targeted drugs, the paper concludes. Cerruti and Murshed are leading an interdisciplinary group to examine whether customized biomolecules can be used to effectively block the process of mineral nucleation and/or crystal formation in the arteries at a very early stage.

Cerruti expresses caution at this point and says her team’s paper only “hints” at a pathway forward to improving human health using a drug to treat a condition for which an effective treatment is still elusive.

Gourgas, Ophélie, Juliana Marulanda, Peng Zhang, Monzur Murshed, and Marta Cerruti. "Multidisciplinary Approach to Understand Medial Arterial Calcification." Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology (2017): ATVBAHA-117. DOI: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.117.309808

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