Effects of DNA damage in smooth muscle cells in atherosclerosis

Kelly Gray, Sheetal Kumar, Nichola Figg, James Harrison, Lauren Baker, John Mercer, Trevor Littlewood, Martin Bennett
Circulation Research 2015 February 27, 116 (5): 816-26

RATIONALE: DNA damage and the DNA damage response have been identified in human atherosclerosis, including in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). However, although double-stranded breaks (DSBs) are hypothesized to promote plaque progression and instability, in part, by promoting cell senescence, apoptosis, and inflammation, the direct effects of DSBs in VSMCs seen in atherogenesis are unknown.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the presence and effect of endogenous levels of DSBs in VSMCs on atherosclerosis.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Human atherosclerotic plaque VSMCs showed increased expression of multiple DNA damage response proteins in vitro and in vivo, particularly the MRE11/RAD50/NBS1 complex that senses DSB repair. Oxidative stress-induced DSBs were increased in plaque VSMCs, but DSB repair was maintained. To determine the effect of DSBs on atherosclerosis, we generated 2 novel transgenic mice lines expressing NBS1 or C-terminal deleted NBS1 only in VSMCs, and crossed them with apolipoprotein E(-/-) mice. SM22α-NBS1/apolipoprotein E(-/-) VSMCs showed enhanced DSB repair and decreased growth arrest and apoptosis, whereas SM22α-(ΔC)NBS1/apolipoprotein E(-/-) VSMCs showed reduced DSB repair and increased growth arrest and apoptosis. Accelerating or retarding DSB repair did not affect atherosclerosis extent or composition. However, VSMC DNA damage reduced relative fibrous cap areas, whereas accelerating DSB repair increased cap area and VSMC content.

CONCLUSIONS: Human atherosclerotic plaque VSMCs show increased DNA damage, including DSBs and DNA damage response activation. VSMC DNA damage has minimal effects on atherogenesis, but alters plaque phenotype inhibiting fibrous cap areas in advanced lesions. Inhibiting DNA damage in atherosclerosis may be a novel target to promote plaque stability.

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