Immune Cells Found in Arterial Plaques Likely to Cause Stroke and Heart Attack

Atherosclerotic plaques, a fatty buildup that over time hardens and narrows the arteries, contain an abundance of immune cells, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

Researchers studied atherosclerotic plaques removed from 46 patients who underwent carotid artery surgery. Forty percent of the patients recently had a stroke. Using cutting-edge technologies to analyze the patient’s blood immune cells, they discovered an abundance of T-cells—which can promote inflammation—in patients who had a stroke.

Additionally, researchers found subsets of T-cells that were highly specialized to the plaque environment that lack the ability to kill diseased cells. The findings could put patients at higher risk of future cardiac events, and inform the development of immune therapies to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in high-risk patients. The study was funded by NHLBI.