10 November 2020

Cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke or myocardial infarction, are caused by the narrowing and closure of arteries by plaques, as a result of a process called atherosclerosis. Important risk factors for atherosclerosis are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Our innate immune system plays an important role in the development of these plaques via chronic inflammation, and previous research has shown that drugs which inhibit inflammation can indeed reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases.

Zooming in on the immune system in atherosclerosis

Macrophages are important immune cells from the innate immune system, and the most common type of immune cells in atherosclerotic plaques. They are derived from another cell type - monocytes - that is present in the blood. In patients with cardiovascular disease, these monocytes are more active, producing more inflammatory molecules than in healthy individuals. It is not yet clear how these monocytes are activated in patients with cardiovascular disease.

In this study, published in eLife, a small group of 13 patients with coronary heart disease, due to severe coronary atherosclerosis, was compared to a group of 13 patients without atherosclerosis. In these study participants a bone marrow puncture was performed so that the researchers could isolate and study the residing stem cells. These stem cells are the precursor cells of all blood cells, including the monocytes. The researchers showed that in patients with atherosclerosis, these precursor cells were programmed differently, so that they produced more activated monocytes.

What does this mean for our knowledge of the immune system and future treatments?

This study adds an extra dimension to the role of the immune system in the development of cardiovascular diseases by showing that activation of this system takes place at the level of precursor cells in the bone marrow.

Niels Riksen, theme Vascular damage and last author of the article: 'This finding could explain how risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or obesity, can have a long-term effect on the immune system. In addition, this knowledge is relevant and important for the development of new drugs targeting the immune system for the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular diseases'.

read more

Related news items


Working energetically from home

3 December 2020

By now, you may have gotten used to it: working from home. The page ‘Working energetically from home‘ offers you tips to help you work from home better, from setting up a good workspace to working more effectively and maintaining a good work-life balance.

read more

Controlled Human Malaria Infection Induces Long-Term Functional Changes in Monocytes

3 December 2020

Robert Sauerwein and Henk Stunnenberg together with Mihai Netea and other colleagues now show for the first time that even a parasitic infection can train the immune system. The article is published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.

read more

Brainy blog Donders Wonders wins prize for science communication

3 December 2020

Donders Wonders, the Donders Institute’s science blog, has won the Communication Award of the NWO Domain Science (ENW). The jury praised the bloggers for the impact and reach of the articles they write and called the way the blog is organised ‘an inspiration’.

read more

Radboudumc research most lungs recover well after COVID-19

26 November 2020

In severe COVID-19 patients the lung tissue recovers well in most cases. This is shown in research by the Radboudumc, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Striking conclusion: patients who were referred by the general practitioner recover worse than ICU patients.

read more

Marianne Boenink has been appointed professor in Ethics of Healthcare

26 November 2020

Health scientist and philosopher Marianne Boenink has been appointed professor in Ethics of Healthcare at the Radboud University/ Radboudumc, as of 1 August 2020.

read more