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Study points to inflammation as cause of plaque buildup in heart vessels

New research into the causes of heart disease lends credence to the theory that inflammation, seen in plaque buildup in heart vessels, is a cause rather than a consequence of that buildup.

In a study published yesterday in Nature Genetics, an international consortium of scientists, which included researchers from Stanford's medical school, found fifteen new genetic regions associated with coronary artery disease. The research brings the total number of validated genetic links with heart disease discovered through genome-wide association studies to 46 and takes a significant step forward in understanding the root causes of the deadly disease.

Results of this massive meta-analysis, which included 170 researchers combining genetic data from more than 190,000 research participants, found further evidence for the possible genetic causes of inflammation. This was a key finding because determining the cause of plaque build up in the wall of heart vessels, which causes coronary artery disease, could lead to cures. Stanford's Themistocles Assimes, MD, PhD, a lead author of the study, commented in my release:

Perhaps the most interesting results of this study show that some people may be born with a predisposition to the development of coronary atherosclerosis because they have inherited mutations in some key genes related to inflammation. There has been much debate as to whether inflammation seen in plaque buildup in heart vessels is a cause or a consequence of the plaques themselves. Our network analysis of the top approximately 240 genetic signals in this study seems to provide evidence that genetic defects in some pathways related to inflammation are a cause.

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