PLoSGenetics: Swedish researchers use genes to ID atherosclerosis

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Scientists at Karolinska Institute in Sweden have identified the genes that help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. Their study is published in the March issue of PLoS Genetics.

In a new study on mice, the research group show that the accumulation of the plaque that causes MI and stroke can be prevented if levels of the LDL cholesterol are reduced before atherosclerotic plaque has progressed beyond a particular point.

The group has also identified a network of 37 genes that lowers levels of blood cholesterol and brings about the beneficial effect.

“Previously, much atherosclerosis research was focused on identifying ways to stabilize the most dangerous plaques in order to prevent them rupturing and causing MI or stroke,” said Johan Björkegren, MD, associate professor at Karolinska, who led the study. “Our discovery means that we can now target the actual development of dangerous plaques.”

Rather than covering individual vessel wall genes, the researchers said their discovery encompasses a network of genes, and one that explains their mutual interaction. It is on account of years of network algorithm development under Jesper Tegnér, professor of computational biology, that the discovery of gene networks has been made possible, the authors wrote.

“The time when individual genes or gene pathways were thought to explain the development of complex common diseases, such as atherosclerosis, is past,” Björkegren said. “We now have enough tools and knowledge of system biology to take on the total complexity of these diseases.”

Björkegren and colleagues that atherosclerosis is the main cause of MI and stroke, which cause almost half of all deaths in Sweden and other countries in the West.