Blood Infections May Increase Risk of Arteriosclerosis


New research from the Medical University of Vienna has made a connect between blood infections and an increased risk of arteriosclerosis.

Health practitioners have known for a long time that certain behaviors (smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, and diabetes) set patients up to be at risk for arteriosclerosis. New research out of the Medical University of Vienna is adding another risk factor to the list: blood infections.

According to a press release on the research, following a blood infection, the body produces IgM antibodies. These antibodies are the first-line immune defense, and then other cells are activated to join the fight. Some individuals “are deficient or completely lack these antibodies, so that they develop congenital immune deficiency.” It is this deficiency that researchers believe leads to an increased risk of arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases.

Delving further into what role the IgM antibodies play in this process, researchers from MedUni Vienna's Division of Medical-Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics and the CeMM (the Austrian Academy of Sciences Research Center for Molecular Medicine) found that these antibodies also “control the physiological development of B cells, which are responsible for producing and disposing of antibodies.” As a result, the IgM antibodies “also regulate the blood concentration of IgE antibodies and make sure that this is kept in check and always restored to the correct level to keep the immune system in balance.” If this balance is not maintained, the IgE antibodies increase and lead to elevated allergic response as well as, “increased formation of plaques, activation of mast cells and inflammatory processes and constrict and damage blood vessels.”

When speaking on this research, Christoph Binder and Dimitrios Tsiantoulas, lead author on the study, are quoted as saying, “For the first time, we were able to show that IgE antibodies can themselves provoke inflammatory reactions in vessels and that inhibition of these IgE antibodies prevents damage to the vessels," according to Dr. Binder. "We were able to identify a completely new function of IgM antibodies, which also probably plays a major role in the development of allergies,” according to Dr. Tsiantoulas.

Although an IgM deficiency is rare, bloodstream infections, such as HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and others, are not. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Central line-associated bloodstream infections result in thousands of deaths each year and billions of dollars in added costs to the US healthcare system.” It is yet to be seen whether practitioners will monitor their patients for cardiovascular complications following a bloodstream infection, but this research provides a first indication that such follow-up may be warranted.

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