How do stressful situations trigger heart attacks? Researchers have now discovered a link: sticky bacteria. Areas of fatty deposits called plaques, which restrict blood flow through arteries, provide a site for bacteria to stick in a layer called a biofilm, shown here in red, with artery tissue in green. When we're stressed, the level of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone noradrenaline increases, which makes the heart beat faster. But bacteria respond to noradrenaline as well, releasing enzymes to unstick themselves – these enzymes can also unstick and dislodge the plaques, which can then block arteries, causing heart attacks and strokes. Understanding how these bacteria stick to the plaques and react to our stress signals could help researchers find a way to block this process, and reduce the chance of heart attacks in patients with heart disease.
Written by Emma Saxon
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