In abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), macrophages are detected in the proximity of aortic smooth muscle cells (SMCs). We have previously demonstrated in a murine model of AAA that apoptotic SMCs attract monocytes and other leukocytes by producing MCP-1. Here we tested whether infiltrating macrophages also directly contribute to SMC apoptosis.
Using a SMC/RAW264.7 macrophage co-culture system, we demonstrated that MCP-1-primed RAWs caused a significantly higher level of apoptosis in SMCs as compared to control macrophages. Next, we detected an enhanced Fas ligand (FasL) mRNA level and membrane FasL protein expression in MCP-1-primed RAWs. Neutralizing FasL blocked SMC apoptosis in the co-culture. In situ proximity ligation assay showed that SMCs exposed to primed macrophages contained higher levels of receptor interacting protein-1 (RIP1)/Caspase 8 containing cell death complexes. Silencing RIP1 conferred apoptosis resistance to SMCs. In the mouse elastase injury model of aneurysm, aneurysm induction increased the level of RIP1/Caspase 8 containing complexes in medial SMCs. Moreover, TUNEL-positive SMCs in aneurysmal tissues were frequently surrounded by CD68 +/FasL + macrophages. Conversely, elastase-treated arteries from MCP-1 knockout mice display a reduction of both macrophage infiltration and FasL expression, which was accompanied by diminished apoptosis of SMCs.