Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Calcium-Induced Calamity
13 August 2013

Calcium-Induced Calamity

Too much fatty food and not enough exercise can increase a person’s risk of developing atherosclerosis – a condition whereby fatty deposits called plaques build up inside blood vessels. As the deposits grow they form a core of dying cells and fat covered by a tough fibrous cap. But these caps can sometimes rupture leading to a life-threatening situation. A cap rupture causes blood cells to gather, form a clot, and block blood flow. So, should a rupture occur in an artery supplying the heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke may follow in a matter of minutes. Identifying which plaques are at risk of rupture may therefore give doctors a chance to intervene. Scientists have discovered that microscopic deposits of calcium, shown aggregated on a mouse plaque (top), cause regions of tissue stress (yellow areas on model, below), which may contribute to cap weakening and trigger a rupture.

Written by Ruth Williams

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