Apoptosis does not mediate macrophage depletion in rabbit atherosclerotic plaques after dietary lipid lowering
Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences. Pharmacy
New York, N.Y.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences / New York Academy of Sciences. - New York, N.Y.
, p. 365-371
University of Antwerp
Unstable atherosclerotic plaques are characterized by a thin fibrous cap that contains few smooth muscle cells (SMCs) and numerous foam cells of macrophage origin. Previously we and others demonstrated that macrophages disappear from atherosclerotic plaques after dietary lipid lowering. However, it remains unclear whether loss of macrophages after lipid lowering occurs via increased apoptosis, decreased macrophage replication and/or recruitment, or via a combination of both. Rabbits were fed a diet supplemented with cholesterol (0.3%) for 24 weeks followed by a normal diet for 4, 12, or 24 weeks. After 24 weeks of cholesterol supplement, plaques showed apoptosis in both macrophages and SMCs, as determined by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling. Cell replication (Ki-67 immunolabeling) was predominantly present in macrophages. After 24 weeks of cholesterol withdrawal, the thickness and areas of the plaques were unchanged. Nevertheless, plaques showed a considerable loss of macrophages. This event was associated with a reduced immunoreactivity for vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) in the endothelial cells starting 4 weeks after cholesterol withdrawal. Apoptosis did not increase after lipid lowering but showed a steady decline. Apart from decreased VCAM-1 expression, a strong decrease in Ki-67 immunolabeling was observed after 12 weeks of cholesterol withdrawal. Our findings suggest that loss of macrophages in atherosclerotic plaques after dietary lipid lowering is not related to induction of macrophage apoptosis but mainly a consequence of impaired monocyte recruitment followed by decreased macrophage replication. This information is essential for understanding the effects of aggressive lipid lowering on plaque stability.