Researchers have identified how the ability of the arteries to supply blood gets impaired with age, a finding that could lead to future treatments for some forms of vascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide, often is associated with ageing arteries that restrict blood flow.
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"We found that older arteries had a significantly lower number of sensory nerves in the tissues surrounding them and they were less sensitive to an important neurotransmitter responsible for dilation," said lead author of the study Erika Boerman, postdoctoral fellow at University of Missouri School of Medicine in the US.
Dilation refers to the action or condition of becoming or being made wider, larger, or more open.
The study focused on mesenteric arteries - a type of artery that supplies blood to the small intestines - of mice that were four months and 24 months old.
These ages correspond to humans in their early 20s and mid-60s, respectively.
Without stimulation, the diameter of the blood vessels of both younger and older mice was approximately the same.
However, when stimulated to induce dilation, differences between the age groups became apparent.
"The younger arteries dilated as expected," Boerman said.
"However, when we performed the same stimulation to the arteries of older mice, the vessels did not dilate,” she noted.
Poor neurotransmitter function and a reduced presence of sensory nerves surrounding older vessels lead to age-related dysfunction of mesenteric arteries, Boerman explained.
"The importance of this discovery is that if we can identify why this happens to mesenteric arteries, it may be possible to prevent the same thing from happening to other blood vessels throughout the body," Boerman said.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Physiology.