Protein that binds to bad cholesterol identified

New York, Nov 22 (IANS) Researchers have identified a protein that plays an important role in the build-up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol levels, in blood vessels.

Higher LDL levels can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of a heart disease — the leading cause of death worldwide.

Arteries become clogged with fats and cholesterol when certain proteins in the body, known as lipoproteins, combine with and transport fats in the blood to cells.

The researchers found that a protein called ALK1 facilitated LDL’s pathway into cells.

“We confirmed that ALK1 directly binds to LDL. This discovery implies that it might initiate the early phases of atherosclerosis,” said William C. Sessa, Professor at Yale University, in Connecticut, US.

The team also determined that the “LDL-ALK1 pathway” aided the transport of LDL from blood into tissue.

For the study, the research team screened more than 18,000 genes from the endothelium — the inner layer of human blood vessels.

They examined the transfer of LDL into endothelial cells and then focused on possible genes involved in the process.

The findings could lead to an additional strategy to block accumulation of the bad cholesterol, which could help prevent or slow the clogging of arteries that leads to heart disease, the researchers said.

“If we can find a way of blocking ALK1 using small molecules or antibodies, it might be used in combination with lipid-lowering strategies,” Sessa said.

Current lipid-lowering strategies include statins, which target LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

A therapeutic treatment that blocks ALK1 “would be a unique strategy for reducing the burden of atherosclerosis and be synergistic

with lipid-lowering therapies,” Sessa noted in the study published in the journal Nature Communications.