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Heart Health Center

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Gene Discovery Could Lead to New Stroke Treatments

In Study, Gene ‘Signature’ Linked to Unstable Plaque Associated With Strokes

MiRNA ‘Signature’ Signaled Unstable Plaque

When the Italian research team examined carotid artery plaque samples taken from seven stroke patients and eight patients who had not had strokes, they found clear differences in expression among the stroke and non-stroke samples for five of the 41 miRNAs examined.

When they repeated the testing in a second group of 15 stroke patients and 23 non-stroke patients, all five of the miRNAs were found to be expressed significantly more often in the stroke patients.

The miRNA signature linked to vulnerable plaques was not associated with a higher presence of specific risk factors for stroke, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking. This suggests that metabolic risk does not fully explain the impact of miRNA on plaque, the researchers say.

American Heart Association immediate past president Ralph Sacco, MD, tells WebMD that the research represents an “interesting first step” in the search for a genetic marker for unstable plaque.

Sacco is chairman of the neurology department at the Miller School of Medicine at Florida’s University of Miami.

“This was a small study, but the researchers did confirm in two different populations that these microRNAs can distinguish between stable and unstable plaque,” he says. “But much more research remains to be done.”

Sacco notes that most of the research on unstable plaque has been in the area of artery imaging, in an effort to visually recognize differences associated with plaque stability.

He says much of this research is also promising, and he predicts that a combination approach that includes a patient’s risk factors for artery disease along with imaging and possibly genetic markers will lead to better ways to identify patients at risk.

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