Vascular Function During Prolonged Progression and Regression of Atherosclerosis in Mice
Objective—Endothelial dysfunction is associated with atherosclerosis in mice, but it is difficult to reduce cholesterol levels enough to study regression of atherosclerosis in genetically modified mice. The goal of this study was to examine vascular structure and function before and after reducing elevated plasma lipid levels with a genetic switch in Reversa mice, and identify novel mechanisms contributing to structural and functional improvements in the vasculature after reduction of blood lipids.
Methods and Results—After 6 months of hypercholesterolemia, endothelial function (maximum relaxation to acetylcholine) in aorta was impaired and responses to nitric oxide were unaffected. Further impairment in endothelial function was observed after 12 months of hypercholesterolemia and was associated with reductions in sensitivity to nitric oxide. Expression of dihydrofolate reductase was reduced at 6 and 12 months, and addition of the tetrahydrobiopterin precursor sepiapterin significantly improved endothelial function. Reducing cholesterol levels at 6 months normalized dihydrofolate reductase expression and prevented further impairment in endothelial function. Similar functional changes were observed after 12 months of hypercholesterolemia followed by 2 months of lipid lowering.
Conclusion—Our data suggest that endothelial dysfunction after prolonged hypercholesterolemia is the result of both impairment of sensitivity to nitric oxide and reduced nitric oxide synthase cofactor bioavailability. Both of these changes can be prevented by normalizing blood lipids during moderately severe or advanced atherosclerosis.
- Received May 8, 2012.
- Accepted December 24, 2012.
- © 2013 American Heart Association, Inc.