RESEARCH: University of Southampton researchers are reporting they have discovered a new process that controls the ability of arteries to regulate blood pressure.

Researchers, led by reader in human nutrition Graham Burdge found that polyunsaturated fats, which make arteries constrict when they are converted into fat-like molecules called eicosanoids, are made in muscle cells.

Previously it was thought they were taken up from the blood.

By blocking the action of two enzymes that create polyunsaturated fats, the researchers were able to reduce the constriction of arteries allowing blood to flow more freely. This lowers the risk of high blood pressure.

They suggest the finding, published in the journal PLoS ONE on 3 April, could lead to a better understanding of the causes of cardiovascular disease and the development of new treatments.

Dr Burdge, who is based at Southampton General Hospital, said: “This is an important finding. Cardiovascular disease is an increasing public health issue. In 2009, over 180,000 people died from cardiovascular disease in the UK – that is one in three of all deaths.

“Discovering a new process which controls how arteries work, and finding that it can be modified in the laboratory, raises a strong possibility for developing new medicines that may lead to better ways of treating cardiovascular disease.

“Currently, it is difficult for doctors to screen people at risk of cardiovascular disease before symptoms develop.  However, a test based on the epigenetic changes we have found could provide a new way of screening people for risk of cardiovascular disease, and, in time, it might also be possible to correct this epigenetic defect.”

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