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      The Emerging Role of Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Apoptosis in Atherosclerosis and Plaque Stability


      American Journal of Nephrology

      S. Karger AG

      Vascular smooth muscle cell, Atherosclerosis, Inflammation, Apoptosis

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          Accelerated atherosclerosis is both a cause and a consequence of chronic renal failure. Vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) are an important component of atherosclerotic plaques, responsible for promoting plaque stability in advanced lesions. In contrast, VSMC apoptosis has been implicated in a number of deleterious consequences of atherosclerosis, including plaque rupture, vessel remodelling, co- agulation, inflammation and calcification. Although VSMC apoptosis occurs in association with these processes, its precise contribution to these diseases is unknown, given that apoptosis frequently accompanies vessel injury or alterations to flow. Using transgenic mice with selective induction of VSMC apoptosis, a recent study has precisely determined the direct consequences of VSMC apoptosis in both normal vessels and atherosclerotic plaques. Surprisingly, normal arteries can withstand huge cell losses with little change in active or passive properties. Normal vessels demonstrate highly efficient clearance of apoptotic bodies, even in the absence of professional phagocytes. In contrast, VSMC apoptosis alone is sufficient to induce multiple features of vulnerability to rupture in plaques. This study identifies VSMC apoptosis as a critical process determining plaque stability and thus the most important consequence of atherosclerosis, plaque rupture.

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          Most cited references 14

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          Lessons From Sudden Coronary Death: A Comprehensive Morphological Classification Scheme for Atherosclerotic Lesions

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            Risk of thrombosis in human atherosclerotic plaques: role of extracellular lipid, macrophage, and smooth muscle cell content.

            To assess the size of the lipid pool and the number of smooth muscle cells and monocyte/macrophages in human aortic plaques that were intact and to compare the results with those in aortic plaques undergoing ulceration and thrombosis. The lipid pool was measured as a percentage of the total cross sectional area of the plaque. Immunohistochemistry was used to identify cell types (monocytes/macrophages (M phi) by EBM11 and HAM56, smooth muscle cells by alpha actin). The area of the tissue occupied by each cell type was measured by quantitative microscopy in the peripheral (shoulder) area of the plaque and the plaque cap. Absolute counts of each cell type were expressed as the ratio of SMC:M phi. Aortas were obtained at necropsy from men aged less than 69 years who died suddenly (within 6 hours of the onset of symptoms) of ischaemic heart disease. 155 plaques from 13 aortas were studied. Four aortas showed intact plaques only (group A, n = 31). Nine aortas showed both intact plaques (group B, n = 79) and plaques that were undergoing thrombosis (group C, n = 45). In 41 (91.1%) of the 45 plaques undergoing thrombosis (group C) lipid pools occupied more than 40% of the cross sectional area of the plaque. Only 12 (10.9%) of the 110 intact plaques (groups A + B) had lipid pools of this size. The mean size of the lipid pool in plaques of groups A, B, and C was 12.7%, 27.3% and 56.7% respectively. Compared with intact plaques those undergoing thrombosis contained a smaller volume of smooth muscle cells (2.8% v 11.8%) and a larger volume of monocyte/macrophages (13.7% v 2.9%) in the plaque cap. The ratio of the number of smooth muscle cells to monocytes/macrophages was 7.8 in group A plaques, 4.1 in group B plaques, and 1.0 in group C plaques. This gradient was the result of an absolute increase in monocyte/macrophages and an absolute decrease in smooth muscle cells. In the aorta ulceration and thrombosis were characteristic of plaques with a high proportion of their volume occupied by extracellular lipid, and in which there was a shift toward a preponderance of monocyte/macrophages compared with smooth muscle cells in the cap.
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              Phagocytosis of apoptotic cells by macrophages is impaired in atherosclerosis.

              Apoptotic cell death has been demonstrated in advanced human atherosclerotic plaques. Apoptotic cells (ACs) should be rapidly removed by macrophages, otherwise secondary necrosis occurs, which in turn elicits inflammatory responses and plaque progression. Therefore, we investigated the efficiency of phagocytosis of ACs by macrophages in atherosclerosis. Human endarterectomy specimens and human tonsils were costained for CD68 (macrophages) and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling (TUNEL) (apoptosis). Free and phagocytized ACs were counted in both tissues. The ratio of free versus phagocytized AC was 19-times higher in human atherosclerotic plaques as compared with human tonsils, indicating a severe defect in clearance of AC. Impaired phagocytosis of AC was also detected in plaques from cholesterol-fed rabbits and did not further change with plaque progression. In vitro experiments with J774 or peritoneal mouse macrophages showed that several factors caused impaired phagocytosis of AC including cytoplasmic overload of macrophages with indigestible material (beads), free radical attack, and competitive inhibition among oxidized red blood cells, oxidized low-density lipoprotein and ACs for the same receptor(s) on the macrophage. Our data demonstrate that phagocytosis of ACs is impaired in atherosclerotic plaques, which is at least partly attributed to oxidative stress and cytoplasmic saturation with indigestible material.

                Author and article information

                Am J Nephrol
                American Journal of Nephrology
                S. Karger AG
                January 2007
                19 January 2007
                : 26
                : 6
                : 531-535
                Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK
                97815 Am J Nephrol 2006;26:531–535
                © 2006 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 1, References: 32, Pages: 5
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                Kidney and beyond – Review Article


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