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New Discovery Points to Vaccine for Heart Disease

Immune memory opens way for vaccine therapy

Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology in La Jolla, Calif., have identified the specific type of immune cells — CD4 T cells — that orchestrate the inflammatory attack on artery walls that contributes to plaque buildup in heart disease. Further, the researchers discovered that these immune cells behave as though they have previously seen the antigen that causes them to launch the attack.

"Immune memory is the underlying basis of successful vaccines,” said Klaus Ley, MD, an expert in vascular immunology. “This means that conceptually it becomes possible to consider the development of a vaccine for heart disease.”

The new findings were announced on August 13 and published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Dr. Ley explained that, in atherosclerosis, T cells communicate with antigen-presenting cells and, in response, make cytokines that launch an inflammatory attack, resulting in persistent inflammation in vessel walls. The inflammatory cells join fat and cholesterol to form artery-clogging plaque that can eventually block blood flow, leading to a heart attack.

Dr. Ley and his team used live-cell imaging techniques to track immune cells in normal and artherosclerotic mouse aortas.

He cautions that creating a vaccine for heart disease is a complex process that could take years to develop.

For more information, visit the La Jolla Institute Web site.

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