WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Insufficient sleep may increase the risk of heart disease. Now, American investigators identified a previously unknown mechanism by which sleep protects against the buildup of arterial plaques, providing a potential treatment option.
The study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature described the mechanism between brain, bone marrow and blood vessels, by which insufficient sleep increases inflammatory white blood cells known to be major contributors to hardening of the arteries.
Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) interrupted the sleep of mice, similar to the experience of someone constantly waking up. The sleep-deprived mice developed progressively larger arterial plaques and had twice the level of certain inflammatory cells like monocytes and neutrophils in their blood vessels.
Also, they had lower amounts of a hormone called hypocretin made by the brain that regulates sleep, according to the study.
They found that the hypocretin regulated the white blood cell production through interaction with neutrophil progenitors in the bone marrow.
The study showed a direct demonstration of the molecular connections linking blood and cardiovascular risk factors to sleep health.
"This is a direct demonstration that hypocretin is also an important inflammatory mediator," said the paper's senior author Filip Swirski from MGH.
The researchers said that targeting the newly discovered mechanism could be a breakthrough that one day leads to new treatments for heart disease and sleep disorders.