Role of Lipoic Acid in Vascular Inflammation and Atherosclerosis

Principal Investigator: Weijian Zhang, Ph.D.

Compelling evidence links oxidative stress and inflammation to major cardiovascular disease (CVD), including atherosclerosis, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke. While antioxidants and anti-inflammatories have been found to inhibit atherosclerosis in experimental animals, antioxidant vitamin trials to prevent or slow CVD in humans have been disappointing. The disparity between clinical trials and animal studies points to major gaps in our understanding of the effects and mechanisms of antioxidants in atherosclerotic vascular diseases in humans. Our long-term goal is to target oxidative stress and inflammation in humans to better understand their etiologic roles in atherosclerosis. The intracellular redox environment regulates endothelial cell function; an imbalance in this redox environment may cause upregulation of cellular adhesion molecules and pro-inflammatory and prothrombotic mediators, all of which promote atherosclerosis. We have found that lipoic acid affects redox-sensitive cell-signaling processes, transcription factors, and gene expression in endothelial and mononuclear cells, and exerts strong anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic effects in experimental animals. In collaboration with researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, we are currently testing whether lipoic acid supplementation reduces risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis in humans by attenuating oxidative stress and inflammation.