JOURNAL ARTICLE

Lipid lowering promotes accumulation of mature smooth muscle cells expressing smooth muscle myosin heavy chain isoforms in rabbit atheroma

M Aikawa, E Rabkin, S J Voglic, H Shing, R Nagai, F J Schoen, P Libby
Circulation Research 1998 November 16, 83 (10): 1015-26
9815149
Smooth muscle cells (SMCs) in the atherosclerotic intima characteristically differ from those in the arterial media, for example, by reduced expression of SMC differentiation/maturation markers such as smooth muscle myosin heavy chain isoforms (SM1 and SM2). This study tested the hypothesis that lipid lowering promotes maturation of intimal SMCs in 33 rabbits subjected to balloon injury and cholesterol feeding (0.3%) for 4 months (Baseline group, n=15); some of which then were switched to a low-cholesterol diet for 8 months (Low group at 8 months, n=3) or 16 months (Low group at 16 months, n=10). The remaining rabbits continued to consume a high-cholesterol diet for 16 months (High group, n=5). We monitored SMC phenotype by expression of immunoreactive alpha-smooth muscle actin, SM1, and SM2. alpha-Actin is an early marker, and SM1 and SM2 are late markers for SMC differentiation/maturation. Only fully differentiated or mature SMCs express SM2. Data are reported as the percentage of the alpha-actin-positive intimal area occupied by smooth muscle myosin-positive SMCs determined by color image analysis of immunostained sections. Levels of SM1 and SM2, highly expressed by SMCs in the normal aortic media (n=5) decreased in the aortic intima of the Baseline and High groups, indicating a less mature phenotype. In contrast, SM1 and SM2 increased in the Low (16 months) group, indicating that intimal SMCs exhibit a more mature phenotype after lipid lowering. Electron microscopy also showed the presence of mature intimal SMCs with abundant myofilaments. Furthermore, lipid lowering reduced levels of platelet-derived growth factor-B in the arterial intima, a factor known to suppress smooth muscle myosin expression. These data demonstrate that lipid lowering favors accumulation of mature SMCs in the atherosclerotic intima in association with reduced levels of platelet-derived growth factor-B expression. Intimal SMCs in the Low group also displayed reduced expression of matrix metalloproteinases-3 and -9 compared with the Baseline and High groups. These findings shed new light on the effects of lipid lowering at the level of the vascular wall, which may influence the biology of the atheroma.

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