Cardiovascular Disease Tied to Breakdowns on Chromosomes

<i> From Times staff reports</i>

Scientists have linked cardiovascular disease to an age-related breakdown of telomeres, repetitive strings of DNA on the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, a bit of the telomere is lost. Ultimately, when all the telomere is gone, the cells are unable to divide. Previous research has shown that cancer cells are able to prevent the telomeres from being shortened, and are thus able to continue dividing indefinitely.

A team from Geron Corp. reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that blood vessel cells involved in atherosclerosis have shortened telomeres, suggesting that they have prematurely aged for an as-yet-unknown reason. “This is the first evidence suggesting that aging of vascular cells contributes to atherosclerosis and possibly other cardiovascular diseases,” said molecular biologist Calvin B. Harley of Geron. The team hopes the discovery will lead to new ways to predict and prevent the formation of plaque in arteries.