The surprise finding comes from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The scientists fed a high-fat diet to mice that lacked the beta3 molecule and got unexpected results. The mice developed lung inflammation and clogged arteries, and about two-thirds of the mice died within six weeks.
That suggests that long-term suppression of this beta3 molecule may contribute to the development of heart disease, instead of preventing it, the study concludes. The information may help guide new strategies for developing drugs to combat heart disease.
The findings were published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Beta3 sits on the surface of cells and interacts with other molecules in the body, helping regulate functions such as blood clotting and inflammation. One of the proteins that beta3 interacts with is critical in causing blood platelets to form blood clots.
Because of that connection, people having heart attacks are often treated with drugs that block the action of beta3. By inhibiting beta3, these drugs prevent platelets from collecting in, and blocking, blood vessels. That helps preserve normal blood flow.
Many experts have suggested long-term use of these beta3 inhibitor drugs might prevent clogged arteries that result in heart attacks. But the results of this study seem to challenge that hypothesis.
Here's where you can learn more about different forms of heart disease.