A gene that scientific dogma insists is inactive in adults actually plays a vital role in preventing the underlying cause of most heart attacks and strokes, researchers have determined. The discovery opens a new avenue for battling those deadly conditions, and it raises the tantalizing prospect that doctors could use the gene to prevent or delay at least some of the effects of aging.
The gene, Oct4, plays a key role in the development of all living organisms, but scientists have, until now, thought it was permanently inactivated after embryonic development. Some controversial studies have suggested it might have another function later in life, but the UVA researchers are the first to provide conclusive evidence of that: Owens and his colleagues have determined the gene plays a critical protective role during the formation of atherosclerotic plaques inside blood vessels. The rupturing of these plaques is the underlying cause of many heart attacks and strokes.More. Paper. (paywall) – Olga A Cherepanova, Delphine Gomez, Laura S Shankman, Pamela Swiatlowska, Jason Williams, Olga F Sarmento, Gabriel F Alencar, Daniel L Hess, Melissa H Bevard, Elizabeth S Greene, Meera Murgai, Stephen D Turner, Yong-Jian Geng, Stefan Bekiranov, Jessica J Connelly, Alexey Tomilin, Gary K Owens. Activation of the pluripotency factor OCT4 in smooth muscle cells is atheroprotective. Nature Medicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nm.4109
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