Plaque-Associated Vasa Vasorum in Aged Apolipoprotein E–Deficient Mice Exhibit Proatherogenic Functional Features In Vivo
Objective—Neovascularization of human atherosclerotic plaques is implicated in plaque progression and destabilization, although its functional implications are yet unresolved. Here, we aimed to elucidate functional and morphological properties of plaque microvessels in mice in vivo.
Methods and Results—Atherosclerotic carotid arteries from aged (>40 weeks) apolipoprotein E–deficient mice were imaged in vivo using multiphoton laser scanning microscopy. Two distinct groups of vasa vasorum microvessels were observed at sites of atherosclerosis development (median diameters of 18.5 and 5.9 μm, respectively), whereas microvessels within the plaque could only rarely be found. In vivo imaging showed ongoing angiogenic activity and injection of fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran confirmed active perfusion. Plaque vasa vasorum showed increased microvascular leakage, combined with a loss of endothelial glycocalyx. Mean blood flow velocity in plaque-associated vasa vasorum was reduced by ±50% compared with diameter-matched control capillaries, whereas mean blood flow was reduced 8-fold. Leukocyte adhesion and extravasation were increased 6-fold in vasa vasorum versus control capillaries.
Conclusion—Using a novel in vivo functional imaging strategy, we showed that plaque-associated vasa vasorum were angiogenically active and, albeit poorly, perfused. Moreover, plaque-associated vasa vasorum showed increased permeability, reduced blood flow, and increased leukocyte adhesion and extravasation (ie, characteristics that could contribute to plaque progression and destabilization).
- Received July 13, 2012.
- Accepted November 27, 2012.
- © 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.