Sheffield scientists identify new potential treatment pathway for cardiovascular disease

October 30, 2019

Scientists from the University of Sheffield have identified a new potential treatment pathway for cardiovascular disease.

Their research has shown for the first time that a protein expressed in a subset of immune cells contributes towards the build-up of fatty deposits in arteries, which leads to cardiovascular disease.

These fatty deposits are caused by macrophages, a subset of immune cells known to take up surplus cholesterol. When this is present in excess, they mature into larger cholesterol-laden cells known as foam cells which accumulate and cause blockages inside arteries.

The study published today (30 October 2019) in Science Advances, shows for the first time that levels of a protein called Tribbles-1 (TRIB1) inside macrophages controls the amount of cholesterol taken up by foam cells.

The research shows that higher levels of TRIB1 increased specific cholesterol uptake receptors, promoting arterial disease, whereas decreasing TRIB1 reduced disease.

The findings of this early translational study which involved the University of Leicester and scientists from Hungary and the US, suggest that inhibiting TRIB1 in macrophages could be a viable therapeutic target in treating cardiovascular disease.

Researchers have long been trying to identify the proteins regulated by TRIB1 to understand their effects, and whether they are of benefit or are detrimental to disease development.

Dr Jessica Johnston from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease (IICD) at the University of Sheffield was first author of the study and her PhD research focused on the project. She said: "The role of TRIB1 in macrophages has remained elusive for some time. Our research provides the missing link and highlights the importance of cell-specific expression in cardiovascular disease.

"I am extremely proud that our collaborative efforts have resulted in these findings."

Professor Alison Goodall from the University of Leicester, said: "We were delighted to be able to support the study with data from our large cohorts of human subjects, to demonstrate the links between TRIB1 and cholesterol uptake in humans."

Professor Endre Kiss-Toth also from the Department of IICD led the study. He said: "Studying the genetics of cardiovascular disease in large human populations has revealed that TRIB1 contributes to its development.

"However, this is the first time that its role in immune cells has been directly addressed, thus uncovering a new mechanism by which arterial disease develops.

"The research into this mechanism has not yet translated into novel medical interventions. However we now have pre-clinical proof that it would be beneficial to build on this research and see which patients with cardiovascular disease would benefit from the development of treatments to manage their lipid-laden foam cell formation."
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Notes to editors

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

British Heart Foundation

With donations from the public, the BHF funds ground-breaking research that will get us closer than ever to a world free from the fear of heart and circulatory diseases. A world where broken hearts are mended, where millions more people survive a heart attack, where the number of people dying from or disabled by a stroke is slashed in half. A world where people affected by heart and circulatory diseases get the support they need. And a world of cures and treatments we can't even imagine today. We are backing the best ideas, the brightest minds and the biggest ambitions - because that's how we'll beat heartbreak forever.

Find out more at bhf.org.uk.

University of Sheffield

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