Scientists are developing new ways to study how ‘furring-up’ of blood vessels by cholesterol restricts blood flow and leads to heart disease. Blood vessels are made of many different cell types: membranes, nerves, elastic fibres and smooth muscle. It’s smooth muscle where excess cholesterol accumulates, but in the complex structure of an artery, analysing this distinct cell type is a particular challenge. The image shows a new technique developed to view the smooth muscle cells that surround blood vessels. A gene that gives rise to a fluorescent protein (stained turquoise/white) was inserted into a developing mouse. Researchers added a genetic ‘switch’ to the new protein (red), which is present only in muscle, so they can turn it off (left) and on (right). With this method changes in smooth muscle, particularly its DNA (blue), can now be studied as heart disease progresses.
Written by Julie Webb
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