A new study has found a link between the amount of fat in the blood and changes to the arteries surrounding the necks and skulls of people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The finding was described in the study “Lipoprotein(a) Levels Are Associated with the Size of Extracranial Arteries in Multiple Sclerosis,” published in the Journal of Vascular Research.
Previous research has shown that a person’s cardiovascular health is an important factor that affects MS occurrence and progression.
To further investigate this link, a team led by researchers at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo, New York, studied the effect of blood fats, also called lipids, on the major arteries in the necks and outside the skulls of people with MS. Researchers took into account participants’ ages, gender, and body mass index when analyzing the results.
To assess the arteries, the team used a technique called non-contrast magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that allows researchers to see the body’s blood vessels. MRA can be used to identify different types of problems in blood vessels, including if they have become narrow, blocked, or enlarged.
The study included 104 people with MS and 41 healthy volunteers, recruited from 2015 to 2018 at the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center.
MRA was used to take cross-sectional images of the common carotid artery and vertebral artery (the two major arteries that supply blood to the neck and skull). The area of these arteries was measured, and a blood sample was collected at the same time of the scan to measure the level of lipids in the bloodstream.
Results showed that lipoprotein(a) — an aggregate of protein and lipids that can adhere easily to the walls of blood vessels — had a strong association with the size of the vertebral arteries in MS patients. In patients with higher levels of lipoprotein(a), both the common carotid and vertebral arteries had become larger.
In addition, age had a moderate effect on the size of the arteries in people with MS.
These associations were not detected in the healthy control group.
Researchers also found that the levels of total cholesterol and low- and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol were not associated with the size of the common carotid and vertebral arteries.
Based on the results, the team concluded that high fat levels in blood are associated with problems in major extracranial arterial vessels in MS patients.
“This study provides another research avenue that may supplement previous findings published by our comprehensive MS group, including hyperlipidemia [high levels of blood lipids] effects on disability progression, greater brain lesion formation, and greater brain atrophy,” Dejan Jakimovski, MD, said in a news story. Jakimovski is lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the department of neurology at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences,
Jakimovski added that although the clinical and pathological significance of these associations remains unknown, “the effect of lipoprotein (a) on the extracranial arterial vasculature is potentially another mechanism of action by which lipids and hyperlipidemia may interact with the complex MS pathophysiology.”
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