Swedish researchers found that immune system T cells attack LDL cholesterol, which causes an inflammation that leads to atherosclerosis.
However, by blocking T cell receptors with a vaccine, researchers managed to inhibit atherosclerotic development in animals.
The team at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm found that T cells react with components in normal LDL particles, rather than those in oxidised LDL as previously thought.
Lead author Professor Göran K Hansson said: ‘Since reactions to LDL can be dangerous, T cells are normally held in check by inhibitory signals.
‘The body's own control works well as long as the LDL keeps to the blood, liver and lymph glands. But when it accumulates in the artery wall, this inhibition is no longer enough, the T cells are activated and an inflammation arises.'
Researchers showed that a vaccination against receptors used by T cells to recognise LDL can block the immune reaction that leads to atherosclerosis.
The vaccine can reduce disease incidence by 60-70%, the authors claim.
They hope the vaccine can be developed as a treatment for patients at high risk of MI and stroke.
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