Statins are a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that can protect against cardiovascular disease. These can slow the formation of plaques within the arteries (atherosclerosis). These atherosclerosic plaques are made of a mix of dead cells, oxidized (subjected to free radicals) low density lipoprotein (the undesirable cholesterol), and immune cells such a dendritic and T cells.
A professor of medicine at Karolinska Institutet's Institute of Environmental Medicine has proposed another way that statins help combat heart disease. His team conducted studies to examine the effects of statins on the maturation of dendritic cells and on T-cell activation. They used dendritic cells that were converted from human peripheral blood monocytes. T cells were collected from patients during heart surgery. The dendritic cells and T cells were grown together in the laboratory and subjected to oxidized LDL. The oxidized LDL triggered maturation of the dendritic cells and activation of the T cells.
Results of the studies show that statins may have immune effects that are greatly responsible for the cardiovascular protective effects. The T cells that were exposed to the exposed dendritic cells secreted various cytokines and other factors related to inflammation. However, dendritic cells treated with statins were unable to trigger inflammatory responses. Further, the statins blocked the inflammatory T cells and induced non-inflammatory T regulatory cells.
Another interesting observation was the ability of statins to inhibit the expression of a gene regulator. This gene regulator, let-7c, is another important factor involved in the effects of oxidized LDL. However, it also has low expression levels in tumors; a potential down side of statins for patients with tumors involving let-7c.
Overall, the statins block dendritic cell maturation induced by oxidized LDL, blocks T-cell activation, cause T regulatory cell production, and suppresses the effect of let-7c involved in the effects of oxidized LDL. These findings suggest a strong immunological component to the heart protective effects of statins and may represent a new mechanism for the effects of statins in cardiovascular protection.
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"How Statins Aid The Immune System". ScienceDaily. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.