Localization and smooth muscle cell composition of atherosclerotic lesions in Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic rabbits.
Morphological techniques (histology and electron microscopy), as well as immunofluorescence assays, were applied to the study of the localization and smooth muscle cell (SMC) composition of atherosclerotic lesions in Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHL) rabbits during a 4.5-month period. Vascular segments from different arteries (carotid, coronary, and iliac arteries) or from the same vessel at different levels (aorta) of animals at days 7, 15, 30, 40, 60, 90, and 135 showed that the atherosclerotic lesion first became visible at the level of the aortic arch in 60-day-old WHHL animals. Histological examination of serial cryosections from this vascular region indicated that the vascular lesion arose from a cavity in the media layer, located anatomically at the level of the juncture of the ligamentum arteriosum with the aortic arch. This aortic arch cavity is formed during the postnatal closure of the ductus arteriosus and is characterized by the presence of a thickened intima, which was absent in the other vascular regions examined. Immunofluorescence comparison of normal and atherosclerotic tissues from the aortic arch cavity wall with the use of monoclonal antibodies specific for smooth muscle and nonmuscle myosin isoforms revealed the existence of distinct SMC populations. SMCs in the thickened intima showed a myosin isoform pattern peculiar to cells with a degree of maturation intermediate between the fully differentiated and the developing (fetal) aortic SMCs. By contrast, SMCs present in atherosclerotic lesions displayed a predominant fetal-type pattern of myosin isoform expression. The achievement of this myosin isoform content seems to be correlated with the accumulation of lipids in the intima. In the media subjacent to the intimal thickening or atherosclerotic lesion, SMCs primarily displayed an intermediate degree of maturation. In older WHHL animals and at this aortic level, the SMC composition of the atherosclerotic lesion did not change, whereas in the subjacent media, the cells of intermediate type almost disappeared. In the vascular regions in which the atherosclerotic lesion appeared at later stages, such as near the aortic bifurcation, the distribution of fetal and intermediate cell types in the atherosclerotic wall was similar to that taken at the aortic arch level. These results indicate that there is 1) a preferential anatomic site from which atherogenesis initiates in WHHL rabbits; 2) a time correlation between the accumulation of lipids in the wall and the phenotypic change of SMCs toward a poorly differentiated cell type; and 3) the tendency for SMCs to follow the same differentiation pattern in early atherosclerotic lesions, irrespective of the site and time at which they develop.
- Copyright © 1993 by American Heart Association