An acne drug could protect against heart attacks and stroke by preventing arteries from hardening, scientists say.
Atherosclerosis occurs when calcium deposits build-up in the vessels, causing them to stiffen and restricting blood flow to vital organs.
But experts found molecules in the antibiotic minocycline can block the pathway that causes calcium to build-up in the arteries.
The drug, often prescribed to treat acne, was 'highly effective' at preventing plaque from forming in rats considered at risk of the condition.
However, it was an accidental discovery, as the academics had set out to investigate why arteries lose their elasticity.
An acne drug could prevent deadly heart attacks and strokes, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by a team of scientists at the University of Cambridge and King's College London.
It was co-led by Professor Melinda Duer, of Cambridge's department of chemistry and Professor Cathy Shanahan, of King's cardiovascular division.
Atherosclerosis, and the cardiovascular diseases it leads to, is the single biggest cause of death in the developed world.
The build-up of plaque is responsible for one in three fatalities, according to the Heart Research Institute.
'Artery hardening happens to everyone as they age and is accelerated in patients on dialysis, where even children develop calcified arteries,' Professor Duer said.
'But up until now we haven't known what controls this process and therefore how to treat it.'
Professor Shanahan added: 'This hardening, or biomineralisation, is essential for the production of bone.
'But in arteries it underlies a lot of cardiovascular disease and other diseases associated with ageing like dementia.
'We wanted to find out what triggers the formation of calcium phosphate crystals, and why it seems to be concentrated around the collagen and elastin, which makes up much of the artery wall.'
The team previously found the enzyme PAR, associated with DNA repair inside cells, can also exist outside cells and plays a role in bone production.
This led them to hypothesise PAR may also lead to biomineralisation - the scientific term for the hardening of the arteries.
PAR enzymes are also expressed following DNA damage and 'internal stress', which are associated with the hardening of both bones and arteries.
'We could see signals from bone we couldn't explain, so we looked for molecules from first principles to figure it out,' Professor Duer said.
Atherosclerosis occurs when plaques made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances accumulate in artery walls.
Over time, the blood vessels harden and narrow, which restricts the flow of blood around the body.
When these plaques rupture, they form a blood clot that can further block the flow of oxygen-rich blood.
Atherosclerosis is most serious when it reduces blood supply to the heart or brain, which can result in a heart attack or stroke, respectively.
The condition, and the diseases it can