In this image, blood clot formation in atherosclerotic blood vessels cuts off the blood supply. Triggers of blood clotting, such as tissue factor, are blocked by statins.
People with high cholesterol are at risk of heart attack and stroke because atherosclerotic plaques within their arteries can rupture triggering the formation of a blood clot called an occlusive thrombus that cuts off the blood supply to their heart or brain.
For years, scientists have studied the cause of this abnormal clotting. Now, a study led by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, has identified a molecular pathway that leads to this abnormal blood clotting and turned it off using a popular class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins.
The research was performed using humans, monkeys and mice with highly elevated blood lipid levels. It indicated that elevated levels of oxidized low density lipoprotein (LDL) induces a molecule called "tissue factor" that triggers clotting. The study appears online in the January 3, 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
"Statins have been shown to have antithrombotic activity in several previous studies. However, I believe our study is the first to elucidate how statins reduce the activation of the blood clotting process independently of their lipid lowering activity, said senior study author Nigel Mackman, PhD, FAHA. Mackman is the John C. Parker Distinguished Professor of Hematology in the Department of Medicine and Director of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute.
Additionally, Mackman noted that statins "only target the 'bad and inducible tissue factor', not the good one used in normal clotting, and therefore should not be associated with the increased bleeding risk that is a typical side effect of anticoagulant drugs currently on the market."