TUESDAY, April 27, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Osteoprotegerin (OPG), a key regulator of bone density, predicted the fatty buildup in arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
An Austrian study reports the discovery in the April 27 online issue of Circulation.
OPG is involved in the body's immune response and has been implicated in heart disease, the researchers said.
"In recent years, several possible new risk factors of cardiovascular disease have been discovered, including infectious agents and proteins involved in the inflammatory and immune responses," study author Dr. Stefan Kiechl, a professor in the department of clinical neurology at the Medical University of Innsbruck, said in a prepared statement.
"This includes OPG, which is associated with atherosclerosis as well as fatal stroke and overall vascular mortality. We wanted to study OPG because of the link between osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, and the common coincidence of both diseases in patients," Kiechl said.
This study included 915 men and women, aged 40 to 80. Their blood levels of OPG were measured in 1990, 1995 and 2000. The study volunteers also had ultrasound evaluations of their neck arteries to determine the extent of atherosclerosis and its progression.
People with the highest OPG levels were at least twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or to die from CVD than those with the lowest OPG levels.
"High levels of osteoprotegerin predicged high risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and revascularization procedures. This may be used in the future to predict the individual risk of a patient. The patient could be treated more aggressively for the risk factors of cardiovascular disease," Kiechl said.
"What needs to be determined is whether it is just a marker of advanced atherosclerosis or whether it actually is a risk factor causing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. This is urgent because genetically engineered OPG is being tested as a new treatment for osteoporosis," he added.
The American Heart Association has more about atherosclerosis.