Scientists are one step closer to understanding cholesterol's role in increased susceptibility to heart attack and stroke.
Researchers at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine have found that cholesterol inhibits the activity of a protein that protects the heart and blood vessels.
High blood cholesterol was long ago identified as a key risk factor for developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
The research team identified that cholesterol limits the activity of a key protective protein called transforming growth factor-beta.
Dr Huang said: "This study gives us new insight into how cholesterol promotes atherosclerosis - and in turn, how it leads to heart attack and stroke. This could give us important new tools in the fight against heart disease."
He added: "We believe the effects of our research could be far-reaching and of great interest to the pharmaceutical, academic and clinical communities."
The study also found that statins, the drugs that lower cholesterol levels, improve the responsiveness of cardiovascular cells to TGF-beta, thus helping to ward off atherosclerosis and heart disease.