Public Release: 

High cholesterol and calcification are to blame for aortic valve disease

Northwestern Memorial HealthCare

(CHICAGO) - High cholesterol levels can lead to fatty deposits in the aortic valve. These deposits may induce undifferentiated cells to transform to bone-forming cells that calcify and narrow the aortic valve, according to researchers. Narrowing of the aortic valve is a common condition that causes the heart to have to squeeze harder to support normal blood flow, causing the heart muscle to enlarge and eventually fail. A study published today in Circulation authored by researchers at Northwestern and the Mayo Clinic is the first to explain the mechanism responsible for this process.

Aortic valvular disease is the most common reason for surgical valve replacement. No medical therapy has been proven to alter the progression of aortic valve disease. "We conducted a test on laboratory model of aortic stenosis to determine whether high cholesterol led to the fatty deposits and resulting bone formation in the aortic valve and whether this progression could be controlled with the use of statins," explains lead author Nalini Rajamannan, MD, cardiologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of cardiology, The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

"Our lab studies showed that statins greatly reduced the prevalence of the bone-forming cells and reduced the extent of changes in the aortic valve," said Dr. Rajamannan. "Our findings, combined with recent retrospective clinical studies that showed that statins in patients slowed the rate of progression for aortic valve disease, point to possible benefits of using statins to treat patients with early stages of the aortic valve disease process. Earlier statin use may prolong the time to severe disease and the need for surgical valve replacement." Statins are drugs that block the formation of cholesterol in the liver and increase the production of the receptors on liver cells that clean the bad cholesterol from the blood.

"We need to do large randomized trials using statins in patients with aortic valve disease to say for sure that statins can stall the progression of aortic valve disease," says Robert Bonow, MD, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and president-elect of the American Heart Association. "However, if this research continues to pan out, it will greatly impact the way cardiologists practice. More patients may be prescribed statins rather than being told to try diet first when they are at risk for aortic valve disease."

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About Northwestern Memorial
Northwestern Memorial is the primary teaching hospital of The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and is widely recognized as one of the nation's preeminent medical centers. Since 1992, Northwestern Memorial has been ranked No. 1 by the people of Chicago as their most preferred hospital, according to a study by the National Research Corporation. The study ranks Northwestern Memorial as having the best doctors, best nurses and most personalized care.

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