How Lupus Narrows Your Arteries

Researchers gain insight into link between lupus and increased risk of atherosclerosis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People with lupus have a higher risk of narrowed arteries - the blood vessels that deliver blood to the organs. While past studies have not shown what causes this higher risk, new research sheds some light on the link between lupus and narrowed arteries.

Researchers found that a certain protein is associated with a higher risk of narrowed arteries in patients with lupus. The protein - called interferon-alpha - triggers an important step in the process that causes plaque to build up in a patient's arteries, causing the arteries to narrow.

"Lupus patients have a higher risk of narrowed arteries."

While high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are important to a lupus patient's risk of narrowed arteries, they do not explain why lupus patients suffer from narrowed arteries more than others, says the study's lead author Nan Shen, M.D., Director of the Shanghai Institute of Rheumatology at Ren Ji Hospital.

Dr. Shen concludes that the study adds to our understanding of how narrowed arteries develop in lupus and other autoimmune diseases. The findings could lead to new ways to treat and prevent heart disease caused by narrowed arteries in lupus patients.

In Depth

  • Dr. Shen and colleagues compared blood samples from 42 lupus patients and 42 healthy volunteers. They found that the protein called interferon-alpha (IFN-α) plays an important role in the development of narrowed arteries - known as atherosclerosis.
  • Specificially, IFN-α promotes the creation of certain foam cells that are loaded with cholesterol. These foam cells then collect along the walls of arteries, resulting in narrowed arteries, or atherosclerosis.  
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Review Date: 
April 19, 2011
Last Updated:
April 21, 2011