Researchers have found that calcium -- usually identified with strong bones and teeth -- also plays a key role in moderating cholesterol, a discovery that could pave the way for new ways of treating high blood cholesterol.
The findings showed that targeting calcium in the cell could lead to a new way to control cholesterol metabolism that increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
While examining a calcium-binding protein, the researchers noticed an extreme rise of blood cholesterol concentration in mice when the protein was not present.
"There is a mechanism inside the cell that senses when there is not enough cholesterol present and turns on the machinery to make more," said Marek Michalak, Professor at the University of Alberta in Canada.
"What we found is that a lack of calcium can hide cholesterol from this machinery. If you lose calcium, your synthetic machinery thinks there's no cholesterol and it starts making more even if there is already enough," Michalak reported in the paper Scientific Reports.
To follow up on this observation, the team discovered that the physiological link between calcium and cholesterol is also preserved in worms.
"The general belief was that cholesterol controlled its own synthesis inside of cells and then we discovered in our labs that calcium can control that function too. Finding this link potentially opens a door to developing new ways of controlling cholesterol metabolism," explained Luis Agellon, Professor at the McGill University in Quebec, Canada.
The findings are a significant step towards developing different approaches to patient care in the future, but there is more work to be done.