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Molecule said to underlie benefits of light drinking

Nov. 21, 2010
Courtesy of University of Rochester Medical Center
and World Science staff

A well stud­ied mol­e­cule called Notch may be be­hind the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects of mod­er­ate al­co­hol drink­ing on the heart, re­search­ers say af­ter a new stu­dy. Down the road, they add, the find­ing could help sci­en­tists cre­ate a heart dis­ease treat­ment that mim­ics this healthy in­flu­ence.

“It would­n’t trans­late to doc­tors pre­scrib­ing peo­ple to drink, but hope­fully... [to] a new ther­a­py for the mil­lions of peo­ple with cor­o­nary heart dis­ease,” said Ei­leen M. Red­mond of the Uni­vers­ity of Roch­es­ter Med­i­cal Cen­ter, one of the sci­ent­ists. 

Past re­search has found that heart dis­ease and cardiac-related death rates are 20 to 40 per­cent low­er in light-to-mod­er­ate drinkers than in non-drink­ers.

Red­mond and col­leagues found that about one to three al­co­holic drinks daily re­duce the ac­ti­vity of Notch, a mol­e­cule that car­ries sig­nals among cells in the body. In­hibit­ing Notch pre­vents the build­up of smooth mus­cle cells in blood ves­sels, they said, which con­tri­butes to nar­row­ing of the ar­ter­ies and can lead to a heart at­tack or stroke.

The group stud­ied Notch be­cause re­search had shown it af­fects the de­vel­op­ment and migra­t­ion of vas­cu­lar smooth mus­cle cells. In blood ves­sels, these ac­ti­vi­ties in­flu­ence the de­vel­op­ment of ath­er­o­scle­rosis, the hard­en­ing and nar­row­ing of ar­ter­ies, and res­teno­sis, the re-nar­row­ing of ar­ter­ies af­ter they have been treated to re­move build­ups. Both are risk fac­tors for heart at­tack and stroke.

The sci­en­tists stud­ied the ef­fects of mod­er­ate amounts of al­co­hol in hu­man cor­o­nary ar­tery smooth mus­cle cells and in the ca­rot­id ar­ter­ies of mice. In both sce­nar­i­os, the re­search­ers said, al­co­hol doses equiv­a­lent to two daily drinks in­hib­ited the ac­ti­vi­ties of Notch, which in turn de­creased the pro­duc­tion and growth of smooth mus­cle cells, leav­ing ves­sels less ob­structed.

“This is the first time an­y­one has linked the ben­e­fits of mod­er­ate drink­ing on cardiovas­cu­lar dis­ease with Notch,” said Da­vid Mor­row, al­so of the cen­ter, and co-author of the re­search, pub­lished on­line Oct. 7 in the jour­nal Ar­te­ri­o­scle­ro­sis, Throm­bo­sis and Vas­cu­lar Bi­ol­o­gy. “We’re go­ing to delve deeper in­to the nuts and bolts of the pro­cess to try to find out ex­actly how al­co­hol in­hibits Notch in smooth mus­cle cells.”


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A well studied molecule called Notch may be behind the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol drinking on the heart, researchers say after a new study. Down the road, they add, the finding could help scientists create a heart disease treatment that mimics the beneficial influence of modest alcohol consumption. “It wouldn’t translate to doctors prescribing people to drink, but hopefully will lead to the development of a new therapy for the millions of people with coronary heart disease,” said Eileen M. Redmond of the University of Rochester Medical Center, one of the researchers in the study. Past research has found that heart disease and cardiac-related death is 20 to 40 percent lower in light to moderate drinkers, compared to people who don’t drink. Redmond and colleagues found that about one to three alcoholic drinks daily reduce the activity of Notch, a molecule that carries signals among cells in the body. Inhibiting Notch prevents the buildup of smooth muscle cells in blood vessels, they said, which contributes to narrowing of the arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. The group studied Notch because research had shown it affects the development and migration in the body of vascular smooth muscle cells. In blood vessels, these activities influence the development of atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries, and restenosis, the re-narrowing of arteries after they have been treated to remove buildups of plaque. Both are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. The scientists studied the effects of moderate amounts of alcohol in human coronary artery smooth muscle cells and in the carotid arteries of mice. In both scenarios, the researchers said, alcohol doses equivalent to two daily drinks inhibited the activities of Notch, which in turn decreased the production and growth of smooth muscle cells, leaving vessels open and relatively free of blockages. “This is the first time anyone has linked the benefits of moderate drinking on cardiovascular disease with Notch,” said David Morrow, also of the center, and co-author of the research, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. “We’re going to delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of the process to try to find out exactly how alcohol inhibits Notch in smooth muscle cells.”