A DISCOVERY showing how the immune system reduces cholesterol levels could lead to improved heart-protective treatments.
High levels of cholesterol can lead to narrowed arteries and heart disease. But the fatty substance also contributes to vital body functions such as making cell membranes and hormones.
Widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins block the good effects as well as the bad.
Now scientists have learned that the body has its own way of keeping cholesterol in check, via the immune system.
Cholesterol levels are suppressed as part of the process that fights off viral infections.
Drugs that mimic the natural mechanism could be as effective as statins while avoiding their side effects, researchers believe.
Dr Steven Watterson, one of the researchers from the University of Edinburgh, said: "Controlling cholesterol is vital for our health and drugs can play a part in this. Developing treatments that mimic the body's natural methods of managing cholesterol could be more targeted and have few side effects compared with conventional treatments."
The study, part-funded by the Wellcome Trust, is published in the journal Biochimie.