Clogging of pipes leading to the heart is the planet’s number one killer. Surgeons can act as medical plumbers to repair some blockages, but we don’t fully understand how this living organ deteriorates or repairs itself over time.
Researchers at the University of Washington have studied vessel walls and found the cells pull more tightly together, reducing vascular leakage, in areas of fast-flowing blood. The finding could influence how doctors design drugs to treat high cholesterol, or how cardiac surgeons plan their procedures.
Their paper will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology.
"Our results indicate that these cells can sense the kind of flow that they’re in, and structurally change how they hold themselves together," said lead author Nathan Sniadecki , a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "This highlights the role that cellular forces play in the progression of cardiovascular disease."
It’s known that the arteries carrying blood are leakier in areas of slow flow, promoting cholesterol buildup in those areas. But medical researchers believed this leakage was mostly biochemical – that cells would sense the slower flow and modify how proteins and enzymes function inside the cell to allow for more exchange.
The new results show that, like a group of schoolchildren huddling closer in a gust of wind, the cells also pull more tightly together when the blood is flowing past.