Sometimes I am simply amazed at the medical research I see going on today. It's awe-inspiring to learn about the inroads that science is making in understanding the human body and how it acts and reacts to the world around it. The National Institute of Health recently supported a study which examined the role that genes play in triggering and regulating inflammation in our bodies.
Inflammation is one of our natural reactions to stress and one contributing factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. Inflammation expedites heart disease by moving and disrupting the plaque buildup in our blood vessels; which can lead to later blockage and damage in the coronary arteries. Plaques are generally found in the arteries of persons with high cholesterol or who have atherosclerosis. Heart attacks and strokes are likely to result when the rupture occurs.
During the course of this study, researchers identified a gene, Hu antigen R (HuR), that may respond to stress and regulate the function of other stress reactive genes. Study results indicate that HuR might also block genes known to fight heart disease from doing their job properly.
To begin, researchers exposed the HuR gene to different environments and chemicals designed to simulate the type of flow that normally occurs in our arteries in order to determine if the antigen HuR was a stress reactive gene. Once confirmed of it's stress reactivity, they exposed it to statin drugs to measure if it could be regulated. Statins are drugs which are used to treat heart disease, lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. Researchers found that the levels of HuR were reduced after being treated with statins.
In further experiments, researchers found that regulating the levels of HuR also had an impact on other genes as well. Once HuR levels were reduced, levels of good genes that fight heart disease (Kruppel-like factor 2, Klf2 and endothelial nitric oxide synthase, eNOS) increased. In addition, when HuR levels were suppressed, levels of a gene that promote atherosclerosis (bone morphogenic protein-4, BMP-4) were also decreased.