What happens inside artery plaque to trigger strokes

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Heart attacks and strokes are leading causes of death in the United States, but scientists are still working to understand one of their primary triggers.

What causes plaque build-up within arteries to become unstable, leading parts to suddenly burst or break away?

A key obstacle is that researchers haven’t been able to study plaques during a stroke.

In a study from Tulane University and Ochsner Health, scientists were able to genetically sequence carotid plaque tissue collected from patients within days after a stroke.

When compared to stable plaque, the researchers discovered the tissues from recent stroke victims contained messenger RNA that can cause inflammation and processes that degrade a key portion of the plaque that protects against rupture.

The discovery could help researchers develop new tools to stop strokes from happening.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that ruptured plaques had increased markers of B-cells, a white blood cell whose role in plaque rupture has not previously been appreciated.

Previous studies have relied on carotid artery samples obtained after the patient’s death or months after the stroke or heart attack.

This either limits the information that can be obtained or misses events that occur only at the time of rupture.

Carotid artery blockage is a common cause of some ischemic strokes, which happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted, preventing brain tissue from getting necessary oxygen and nutrients.

Because the mechanisms that lead to some strokes and most heart attacks involve the same plaque rupture events, these findings also have implications for heart disease.

The team says inflammation is a known risk factor in atherosclerosis, leading to stroke and heart attacks.

Carotid and coronary plaques develop a protective cap that, for unclear reasons, thins, making strokes and heart attacks more likely.

The genes identified in this study could be used as targets to develop new drugs or diagnostics to help prevent strokes and heart attacks.

If you care about stroke, please read studies that neck artery narrowing can increase stroke risk, and coffee and tea drinking may protect you from stroke and dementia.

For more information about stroke, please see recent studies about drug combo that could prevent stroke and heart disease, and results showing how to control cholesterol and protect yourself from a heart attack, and stroke.

The study was conducted by Cooper Woods et al and published in Scientific Reports.

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