Unravelling a facet of the heart's mysterious workings, scientists have stumbled upon electrical property in arteries not seen before in mammalian tissues.
Scientists found that the wall of the aorta, the largest blood vessel carrying blood from the heart, exhibits ferroelectricity, a response to an electric field known to exist in inorganic and synthetic materials.
A ferroelectric material is an electrically polar molecule with one side positively charged and the other negatively charged, whose polarity can be reversed by applying an electrical field, the journal Physical Review Letters reports.
"The result is exciting for scientific reasons. But it could also have biomedical implications," said Jiangyu Li, University of Washington associate professor of mechanical engineering, who led the study.
"We can imagine if we could manipulate the polarity of the artery wall, if we could switch it one way or the other, then we might, for example, better understand the deposition of cholesterol which leads to the thickening and hardening of the artery wall," Li said.
Ferroelectricity is common in synthetic materials and used for displays, memory storage, and sensors, according to a University of Washington statement.
Li collaborated with co-author Katherine Zhang at Boston University to explore the phenomenon in biological tissues. The findings show clear evidence of ferroelectricity in a sample of a pig aorta. They believe the findings would also apply to human tissue.
In subsequent yet to be published work, they divided the sample into fibrous collagen and springy elastin and studied each one on its own.
"The elastin network is what gives the artery the mechanical property of elasticity, which of course is a very important function," Li said. Ferroelectricity may, therefore, play a role in how the body responds to sugar or fat.
Another possible application is to treat a condition in which cholesterol molecules stick to the inside of the channel, eventually closing it off.