Atherosclerosis, vascular remodeling, and impairment of endothelium-dependent relaxation in genetically altered hyperlipidemic mice

S Bonthu, D D Heistad, D A Chappell, K G Lamping, F M Faraci
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 1997, 17 (11): 2333-40
We examined the vascular structure and endothelium-dependent relaxation in two genetic models of hypercholesterolemia: apolipoprotein E (apoE)-knockout mice and combined apoE/LDL receptor-double-knockout mice. Intimal area was increased markedly in proximal segments of thoracic aortas from apoE/LDL receptor-knockout mice [0.13 +/- 0.03 (mean +/- SE) mm2] compared with normal (C57BL/6J) mice (0.002 +/- 0.002 mm2, P < .05). Despite intimal thickening, the vascular lumen was not smaller in the aortas of apoE/LDL receptor-knockout mice (0.52 +/- 0.03 mm2) than in normal mice (0.50 +/- 0.03 mm2). In apoE-deficient mice, intimal thickening was minimal or absent, even though the concentration of plasma cholesterol was only modestly less than that in the double-knockout mouse (14.9 +/- 1.1 vs 18.0 +/- 1.2 mmol/L, respectively, P < .05). Relaxation of the aorta was examined in vitro in vascular rings precontracted with U46619. In normal mice, acetylcholine produced relaxation, which was markedly attenuated by the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor NG-nitro-L-arginine (100 microM). Relaxation to acetylcholine and the calcium ionophore A23187 was normal in apoE-deficient mice (in which lesions were minimal) but greatly impaired in the proximal segments of thoracic aortas of apoE/LDL receptor-deficient mice, which contained atherosclerotic lesions. Vasorelaxation to nitroprusside was similar in normal and apoE-knockout mice, with modest but statistically significant impairment in atherosclerotic segments of apoE/LDL receptor-knockout mice. In distal segments of the thoracic aorta of apoE/LDL receptor-deficient mice, atherosclerotic lesions were minimal or absent, and the endothelium-dependent relaxation to acetylcholine and calcium ionophore was normal. Thus, in apoE/LDL receptor-knockout mice (a genetic model of hyperlipidemia), there is vascular remodeling with preservation of the aortic lumen despite marked intimal thickening, with impairment of endothelium-dependent relaxation to receptor- and nonreceptor-mediated agonists. Atherosclerosis may be accelerated in the apoE/LDL receptor-double-knockout mouse compared with the apoE-knockout strain alone. We speculate that other factors, such as the absence of LDL receptors, may contribute to the differences in the extent of atherosclerosis in these two models of hyperlipidemia.

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